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Officials impose fire limits

By Emery Cowan Herald staff writer

With five wildfires burning across the state, La Plata County, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe will be implementing stage 1 fire restrictions beginning Wednesday.

Generally, stage 1 restrictions mean:

Campfires are limited to permanent fire rings or grates within developed campgrounds.

Smoking is allowed only in vehicles, buildings or areas with a 3-foot radius clear of vegetation.

Torches with an open flame are prohibited.

The use of explosives is prohibited.

Internal-combustion engines must be equipped with a spark-arresting device.

The restrictions will apply to all unincorporated areas of La Plata County, all Bureau of Land Management Lands in Southwest Colorado and all U.S. Forest Service Lands below 8,500 feet in elevation. In La Plata County, that means Forest Service lands south of Electra Lake and Vallecito Reservoir.

Welding or torch use and flaring related to natural-gas and oil operations within the county generally are exempt from the restrictions.

Warm weather and little precipitation have created a dismal picture for fire danger in La Plata County that doesn’t appear likely to improve. La Plata County has received less than 25 percent of normal precipitation during the last month, according to the Western Regional Climate Center.

Vegetation that greened in spring now is drying out and is “available to burn or will become available to burn soon given the current conditions and the outlook for the next few weeks,” said a report given to La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday.

Similar types of fuels are drier this year than they were last year, and fires that have started in the area have gained intensity very rapidly, Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata County’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, told commissioners Tuesday.

The one piece of good news is that the Windy Pass and West Fork fires burning northeast of Pagosa Springs near Wolf Creek Pass have drawn a greater amount of air resources into the area.

“If we should find ourselves in initial attack engagement, aircraft are more readily available,” said Hal Doughty, deputy chief with Durango Fire & Rescue Authority.


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