Burning ditches and slash piles a rite of spring in the Yampa Valley | SteamboatToday.com

Burning ditches and slash piles a rite of spring in the Yampa Valley

— Spring 2014 is becoming one of those seasons in rural Routt County when the valley floor is largely free of snow and ice, but there is significant moisture-laden snow lingering at 8,500 feet and higher.

Under the right circumstances, it's good weather for burning ranch fields and ditches as well as the slash piles left over from dead tree removal last fall.

The wild card is wind.

The appearance of smoke plumes where farmers and ranchers are burning irrigation ditches to clean them of weeds is another sign of spring in the upper Yampa and Elk river valleys.

North Routt Fire Chief Mike Swinsick said Thursday morning that he has issued 30 burn permits in a little more than a week and would be busy that day visiting and inspecting the premises of more people wishing to burn the leftovers from tree removal operations.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, agricultural operators here are not required to obtain a permit to burn fields around water conveyances (irrigation ditches) for the purpose of preparing for a commercial crop.

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For everyone else, the first step to take before burning is to contact your local fire district for a permit.

The fact that ag operators don't need a permit to burn their fields doesn't mean that anyone whose land is zoned agricultural can burn without a permit, according to the CDPHE. Nor does it mean farmers and ranchers are immune from fire district and municipal fire rules.

Routt County Emergency Manager Bob Struble recalled Thursday that in spring 2012, after a winter of drought and unusually early snowmelt, a county-wide fire burn was imposed as several agricultural burns got out of control and spread.

There were no fire restrictions in place March 31, 2012, when an agricultural burn just south of the town of Yampa city limits got out of control and the flames came within about 50 feet of a gasoline bulk plant. Eight firefighters from the Yampa Fire Protection District got the blaze under control with help from Struble and Routt County Sheriff's Office deputies. But not before the fire jumped the railroad tracks and Colorado Highway 131 and began to burn in a hay field.

By April that spring, there had been nine wildfires across Routt County, including out-of-control ag burns near Hayden and Steamboat Springs. One fire that got away March 23, 2012, and spread to a haystack was thought to have been extinguished, but it reignited under windy conditions March 26.

By late June, Stage 2 fire restrictions were in place county-wide, forbidding open fires including charcoal grills, smoking outside of a closed vehicle or building and even using an acetylene torch in the process of welding outside.

Spring 2014 isn't likely to match 2012 for fire danger. But Struble's office is urging people to let their neighbors know about their permitted burns to avoid false calls for wildfires and avoid burning on windy days.

Keep a shovel and source of water nearby, remove debris from the base of fences and power poles, dig a fire line at the boundary of your planned burn and never leave a fire unattended.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

Before you burn

Outdoor fires in the city of Steamboat

Recreational burning of any type within the city limits and in the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District requires a permit from Fire Prevention Services. This includes recreational fires in store-bought fire appliances.

Gas and charcoal barbecue grills do not require permits.

Once a permit is issued, it can be revoked if you are burning outside the scope of your permit or in an unsafe manner. A $25 permit fee is charged, and the permit is good for a six-month period from the date of issuance.

The permit process allows the fire inspector to visually inspect the apparatus to be used for burning as well as the surrounding area. At this time in the city, permits are only being issued for recreational burning in approved fire pits.

Contact your fire department or fire district for outdoor burning permits

The details of obtaining outdoor burning permits vary across Routt County.

North Routt Fire Protection District: 970-879-6064

Oak Creek Fire Protection District: 970-736-8104

West Routt Fire Protection District: 970-276-3796

Yampa Fire Protection District: 970-638-4227

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue: 970-871-8216 or 970-879-7170

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