Varying restrictions remain in effect on the Western Slope, so know before you go
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Abundant rains across parts of the Colorado high country have prompted some jurisdictions to ease fire restrictions, enabling visitors to enjoy controlled campfires in developed recreation sites and other safe settings.
Officials said the fire danger hasn’t completely disappeared and are still urging caution. For now the fire danger is rated as moderate across the White River National Forest, which means fires can still spread from an ignition source like a campfire, but is likely to spread slowly. As a result, the forest is lifting the fire ban effective July 20.
At lower elevations farther west, the fire danger is still rated from high to very high, and varying restrictions remain in effect. Visit this interactive Colorado Office of Emergency Management website to get up-to-date information on fire restrictions in your area.
A few days of hot, dry and windy weather could once again put forests and homes at risk, fire experts said, adding that restrictions could be re-established if conditions turn dry again.
With varied degrees of fire danger at different elevations, the Forest Service has taken a nuanced approach, lifting restrictions in the White River National Forest, but leaving fire restrictions in place in lower-elevation forests across western Colorado.
That means campers on the White River NF are free to have campfires both in developed sites with fire rings, and in dispersed camping areas. Rules on making sure that fires are dead out are still in effect.
“While there have been several large fires in Colorado this summer, we have not had any major fires caused by human activity, enabling fire management agencies to concentrate on responding to the many naturally caused widlfires,” said White River NF supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.
“I urge the public to remain vigilant and be very careful with fires,” he said. “While we feel current conditions allow us lift fire restrictions at this time, another period of dry weather could see an increase in fire danger. Should conditions warrant we could again implement fire restrictions across the White River.”
The Grand Mesa, Umcompahgre and Gunnison National Forests are currently under Stage I restrictions. limiting fires to developed camping areas with contained fire rings.
“We have taken a careful look at the weather and fuel moisture date from weather stations across the (region),” said Upper Colorado River fire management officer Bill Hahnenberg. “This information indicates that we should lift the fire restrictions for the White River National Forest. The fire danger remains higher on BLM lands so we will keep the BLM areas in Stage II at this time,” Hahnenberg said. “These lands are generally lower in elevation than lands on the White River National Forest.”
The lower elevation BLM lands include big areas in Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties, as well as farther west, in the Grand Valley. Stage II fire restrictions essentially ban all outdoor fires.
Because of the differing conditions across the region, counties have taken different positions with regard to fire restrictions for non-federal lands. Fire restrictions remain in effect for Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle and Rio Blanco Counties.
Fire restrictions have been lifted for Summit and Mesa Counties. The public is urged to contact the County Sheriff in the appropriate county for the most current information on fire restrictions for non-federal lands. Click here for detailed information on the different stages of fire restrictions.
“The recent rains have certainly helped us out,” said Undersheriff Derek Woodman. “However, we urge everyone to continue to use caution with open flames outdoors, as things could dry out again very quickly.”
Having different levels of fire restrictions in place creates a management challenge for the federal agencies, but campers and backcountry recreation visitors have a responsibility to inform themselves about current conditions. Check in at a local ranger station, look for signs along highways about the fire danger and check in with rangers or campground hosts before starting a fire.