Our View: It’s time for a fire ban | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: It’s time for a fire ban

With extreme conditions already leading to considerable fire danger here and across the state, local officials should immediately place a temporary ban on controlled burns and other open fires in Routt County. 

Controlled burns on private ranches got out of control Friday and Saturday in parts of southern Routt County, with each requiring local fire crews to come to the rescue. There now have been at least six controlled agricultural burns in the past couple of weeks that have become wildfires needing to be extinguished by firefighters. And it was a controlled burn by the Colorado State Forest Service that led to the massive Lower North Fork Fire in Jefferson County that has claimed two lives and more than two dozen homes. 

Northwest Colorado, like most of the state, is emerging from an unusually dry and warm winter into an unusually dry and warm spring. The result is dwindling snowpack at higher elevations and extremely dry conditions at lower elevations. Daily high temperatures in the 60s and consistent winds further have dried vegetation. As a result, many local ranchers already are tending to chores typically reserved for later in the spring. One such chore is burning dead vegetation piled in irrigation ditches.

While controlled burns are commonplace and have been used for generations, they're not the only way to rid a ranch property of unwanted vegetation, and they're certainly not worth the risk they pose when considerable fire danger exists. 

Last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered a temporary ban on all prescribed burns by the Colorado State Forest Service. The U.S. Forest Service followed suit Friday by putting a temporary halt on all planned prescribed burns in Colorado. It's time for Routt County officials to follow the lead of the state and counties like Boulder, Eagle, Douglas, Arapahoe and Jefferson, all of which recently have enacted fire bans. 

Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said late last week that local fire officials likely would meet this week to discuss a temporary ban. Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble hinted Friday that such a meeting could take place Monday. We think it should, and the result of that meeting should be a temporary ban on all open fires in the county, including controlled burns on private property and prescribed burns by other land management agencies. 

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We realize that prescribed and controlled burns can be one of the most effective ways for land managers to reduce wildfire risk. That's particularly true of areas of the forest that have been ravaged by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. We think prescribed burns should continue to be a tool to manage the short- and long-term health of public and private lands, but it's similarly appropriate to temporarily halt those practices when conditions warrant. Such is the case now. We'll hold out hope that a change in the weather will bring a cool, moist spring, but as of now, it's prudent to prepare for extreme fire danger for the remainder of spring and summer. 

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