Wilderness Wanderings: Fire ban includes our wilderness | SteamboatToday.com

Wilderness Wanderings: Fire ban includes our wilderness

Bob Korch/For Steamboat Today

Think about several current or recent wildfires.

  • Peak 2 Fire: Only two miles from Breckenridge, causing evacuation of a nearby subdivision
  • Peekaboo Fire: At more than 12,000 acres, 50 miles west of Craig
  • Mill Creek Fire: At Pilot's Knob, 13 miles northeast of Hayden
  • Middle Fork Fire: A stone's throw from Slavonia Trailhead at the end of Seedhouse Road

What's the common thread? They're all close to home or the places we play.

Without receiving appreciable precipitation for more than a month, many parts of our wildlands are becoming very dry and, thus, extremely susceptible to fire.

As a result, Stage 1 fire restrictions went into effect July 12 for the entire Routt National Forest. What does that mean for you? Essentially, no fires or smoking are allowed other than in permanent fire pits or fire grates within developed recreation sites, such as campgrounds. Also, no campfires or cigarette smoking is allowed while hiking or backpacking, for example, in the Mount Zirkel, Flat Tops and Sarvis Creek wildernesses.

Yes, lightning causes a large number of wildfires. But did you know that 84 percent of wildfires nationally are caused by humans? Yes indeed, as Smokey Bear advises: "Remember, only YOU can prevent wildfires!"

Here's more perspective on the effect of wildfires: Fighting fires is consuming a much larger proportion of the USFS's annual budget, up from 16 percent in 1995 to 52 percent only 20 years later. And that cost is expected to rise to more than two-thirds of the agency's budget by 2025.

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More money to fight fires means scaled back programs and less money for fewer staff.

Last year's Beaver Creek fire burned 38,000 acres near Walden at a cost of $30 million. Think how many new picnic tables that money could have bought, roads it could have repaired or staff it would have supported.

What does that mean for us beyond bumpier roads and older picnic tables?

It means to please be especially careful when hiking and camping in our National Forests.

A campfire can be a satisfying end to a long day of backpacking. But late-afternoon winds can quickly fan the flames and blow cinders that can spread the fire into a living nightmare. That happened near Gilpin Lake two summers, ago as witnessed by nearby campers who responsibly put out the fire.

Hopefully, the fire ban will be lifted before too long, and when that happens, ask yourself: Do I really want or need a campfire? If so, please use your spade to dig a small pit rather than build your fire at ground level. Keep the dirt handy and refill the hole when you break camp the next day.

Are you thoroughly dousing your fire before going on a hike? Think about the ability of the fire to sustain itself. Put your hand over the wet coals. If you still feel heat, the fire can resurrect later after the coals dry.

Yes, lightning causes some forest fires, including the massive Mount Zirkel Complex Fire that burned 31,000 acres in 2002.

But humans cause a much higher proportion of wildfires. So, please be careful with fire out there.

Know before you go:

  • FOW volunteers are planning Saturday to clear trees off the Gilpin and Gold Creek Lake trails at the top end of the Zirkel Circle now that most of the snow has melted from the high country.
  • Some 200 fallen trees were recently cleared from Lake Katherine and Big Horn Lake trails, providing access to two spectacular high alpine lakes on the east of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
  • Windy Ridge Trail was recently cleared of trees and is an easy hike with spectacular views to wow your visiting guests.
  • Mountain streams are still running high, fast and cold. Plan to get your feet wet and carry your water crossing shoes.
  • Wildflowers are before peak on most mountain trails.
  • For the latest trail conditions, call the Steamboat office of the U.S. Forest Service at 970-870-2299.

Bob Korch is president and trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness, which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public in the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. Learn more about the group at friendsofwildneress.com.