Forest Service enacts rare Stage 2 fire restrictions to minimize risk of human-caused fires; gets funds for outreach, signage and preparedness
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Facing some of the most dangerous fire conditions on record, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams decided Tuesday to enact Stage 2 fire restrictions, effective 12 a.m. June 22, basically banning any sort of open fire, even in developed campgrounds.
The restrictions could stay in effect through the summer unless there is a significant change in the weather pattern, perhaps two solid weeks of steady afternoon thunderstorms and moisture.
A comprehensive listing of fire restrictions and other fire related emergency information is online at http://www.coemergency.com/. Information on current wildfires in Colorado and around the country is online at http://www.inciweb.org/.
“Obviously, the extreme conditions are getting worse. This is as dry as we’ve seen it,” Fitzwilliams said, adding that the long-range forecast doesn’t offer much hope for relief. “We’re seeing things we haven’t seen in a long time, even in 2002,” he added, referring to the last serious drought year in Colorado.
“Given the conditions, it’s unlikely we’re going to escape without some fire activity. We’ve been lucky so far … I don’t think it’s time to panic, but it’s time to be prepared,” he said.
Based on the conditions, the White River Forest has received a $75,000 funding boost to step up signage, patrols, enforcement and general readiness, including staging fire crews and engines in strategic spots. If a fire does start, putting it out in the first few hours could make the difference between a small incident and a catastrophic fire.
Key measures of fire danger include fuel moisture and the relative atmospheric humidity, both of which are well below average for this time of year.
Fitzwilliams said it’s critical to get the word out, explaining that the Forest Service has seen fairly good compliance with Stage 1 restrictions, which limited open fires to developed sites with fire rings, but acknowledged that patrols have found several abandoned campfires in the past few weeks.
“We’re doing as much as we can to prepare … And we’ll be out in force, especially in terms of public information,” he said. “Our goal is to avoid human-caused wildfires. The conditions warrant this. We all know what’s going on in Fort Collins,” he added, referring to the Larimer County wildfire, burning mostly on private lands, which destroyed 189 homes and killed one resident of the area.
Fitzwilliams also urged people living in and near fire-prone areas to be prepared for the worst by protecting their property through clearing brush and removing dead branches, along with many other common-sense steps outlined at www.firewise.org. In addition, he said residents should prepare emergency evacuation plans and make sure they have their most valuable and important possessions prepared for transport.
Stage II fire restrictions prohibit:
- Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire, charcoal grill, coal, wood burning stove or sheepherders stove, including in developed camping and picnic grounds. Devices using pressurized liquid or gas are exempted;
- Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle, trailer, building or tent;
- Using an explosive requiring fuse or blasting caps, fireworks, rockets, exploding targets and tracers or incendiary ammunition;
- Operating a chainsaw without an approved spark arrestor and without chemical pressurized fire extinguisher (8 oz. capability by weight or larger and kept with the operator) and without one “O” or larger round point shovel with an overall length of at least 35 inches that is readily available for use;
- Welding, or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame (except with a current permit, contract or letter of authorization and the welding area must be barren or cleared of all flammable material for 10 feet on all sides of the equipment);
The use of fireworks, flares or other incendiary devices is always prohibited on federal lands.