Colorado: Red flag warning prompts Aspen-area fire ban

Red flag fire warning in western Colorado.

Burning restricted in some other parts of the high country; Summit County mulls fire ban

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — With little relief in sight from the abnormally warm and dry spring conditions, Pitkin County this week enacted an open-ended fire ban with support from local jurisdictions. Most of western Colorado is under a red flag warning, including the valleys of Summit County.

The Pitkin County ban prohibits campfires and other outdoor burning, other than fires in permanent fire pits or fire grates, in designated campgrounds, picnic areas, or developed recreation sites. It also prohibits most smoking outdoor, as well as operating chainsaws without spark arresting devices, outdoor welding (except in cleared work areas, as well as fireworks.

In Summit County, local burn permits have been suspended.

” The Sheriff is prepared to request a fire ban from the Commissioners when there is consensus for the need,” said emergency management director Joel Cochran.

Along with the deadly Lower North Fork Fire in Jefferson County, several small fires have already flared up in the high country, including a late March blaze near Keystone, in Summit County, a small fire started by an abandoned campfire in Mesa County, and a small fire west of Aspen this week.

A red flag warning for critical fire danger from the National Weather Service covers much of western Colorado, including North and Middle parks, and possible spreading east to the Front Range foothills, due to southwest winds and relative humidity below 15 percent.

Any fires that start are likely to spread quickly and will be difficult to contain, according to the National Weather Service, which warned that even simple agricultural burns could easily spread out of control.

An early melt of the snowpack at valley elevations has exposed last year’s crop of fine fuels, including grasses and brush, to the warm and dry winds. With higher than normal moisture last winter, those fuels are abundant, according to Ross Wilmore, the fire management officer for the east zone of the White River National Forest.

Those fuels, combined with down and dead beetle-killed trees, provide a continuous ladder that could quickly turn a small ground fire into a major forest fire, he said.


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