Governor imposes statewide fire ban

Commercial, city fireworks among several exceptions

A helicopter helps in efforts to contain the Little Sand Fire 13 miles northwest of Pagosa Springs. The lighting-sparked fire is burning in rugged terrain north of the Piedra River. Gov. Hickenlooper imposed a statewide ban on most fires Thursday. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of inciweb.nwcg.gov

A helicopter helps in efforts to contain the Little Sand Fire 13 miles northwest of Pagosa Springs. The lighting-sparked fire is burning in rugged terrain north of the Piedra River. Gov. Hickenlooper imposed a statewide ban on most fires Thursday.

DENVER – Forget about playing with sparklers or building a campfire in the backcountry anywhere in Colorado this summer.

Gov. John Hickenlooper imposed a statewide fire ban Thursday, noting that extra dry and hot weather has led to 340 wildfires already this year.

“The threat to life and property, I think, has grown to the point where we need to get questions out of people’s minds and have a unified approach as to how we’re going to address this,” Hickenlooper said.

But his ban includes several exceptions, so it won’t completely extinguish summer fun.

Fires are allowed in permanent fire pits at established campsites or picnic areas and in backyard charcoal grills. In the backcountry, gas stoves will be allowed.

Commercial and city fireworks displays also will be allowed, with the county sheriff’s permission. But private fireworks are now disallowed.

Also, farmers will be allowed to set prescribed burns in their fields and ditches.

The 50,000-acre High Park Fire west of Fort Collins loomed as an ominous backdrop to Hickenlooper’s announcement. The fire exploded last Saturday and now ranks as the third-largest fire in state history, behind the Hayman and Missionary Ridge fires in 2002. Several days this week, Denverites woke up to a city that smelled like a campfire. The massive smoke plume is easily visible from the capital’s northern suburbs.

Several counties, including La Plata, already have adopted fire bans, and the state ban does not replace stricter county bans.

Hickenlooper said he wanted to eliminate confusion for people on outdoor trips to various counties.

“We don’t want any lack of clarity. We want everybody very, very focused that this is an extremely dry, hot and windy time of the year. The forecast seems to be showing no strong end in sight,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper did not say how long his ban would last, but he doubted it would remain in place all summer. Forecasts predict monsoon rains in early August, he said.

Hickenlooper seemed to have learned a lesson from former Gov. Bill Owens, who was governor during the last catastrophic wildfire season in 2002. In an offhand remark, Owens said, “It looks as if all of Colorado is burning today,” causing an uproar in the state’s tourism industry.

Hickenlooper noted that Colorado has about 10,000 campsites, and just 120 are off-limits because of the fires. All the fires in the state so far this year have touched just half a percent of Colorado’s 23 million acres of public lands.

“We’re not telling people to not go out and enjoy the outdoors. Colorado is probably the greatest state in America for people getting their first taste of the great outdoors,” he said.

La Plata County commissioners enacted a similar burn ban in unincorporated areas last week. Montezuma County on Monday imposed a ban on open fires and fireworks.

Hickenlooper noted that 55 of the state’s 64 counties have some type of fire ban this summer. He said he heard no opposition to a statewide policy from any of the county commissioners his office contacted.

“We can’t outlaw lightning from hitting the ground. If we could, we would,” Hickenlooper said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to try and make sure every fire we can intercept and stop, and make sure it doesn’t happen, that we do that.”

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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