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County toughens fire rules

By Emery Cowan Herald staff writer

Campers can say goodbye to roasting marshmallows over the campfire and smokers will have to be more aware of where they light up under stricter regulations that the La Plata County commissioners approved Tuesday.

The commissioners approved Stage 2 fire restrictions for all unincorporated parts of the county. They follow decisions made last week by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to implement Stage 2 restrictions in lower elevations (below 8,500 feet) and Stage 1 restrictions in higher elevations.

Stage 2 restrictions prohibit:

Attending, maintaining or using a fire, campfire or stove fire, including charcoal grills and coal or wood-burning stoves.

Open burning or agricultural burning.

Smoking outside.

Welding, pipe fitting or other activities involving an open torch, unless the user complies with certain safety restrictions.

Operating any internal-combustion engine unless equipped with a spark-arresting device.

Explosives such as fireworks.

Flaring from gas and oil production wells and production facilities.

Fire officials emphasized that private campgrounds are not exempt from the restrictions.

Fuel moistures in the lower portions of the county have continued to decline since commissioners approved Stage 1 restrictions June 19, said Butch Knowlton, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

“We have seen no improvement in our weather. The little precipitation we have received has done pretty much no good,” Knowlton said.

The amount of precipitation that has fallen at the Durango-La Plata County Airport this year is 2½ inches less than normal, Knowlton said.

Commissioner Bobby Lieb pressed officials to explain why the county needed to increase fire restrictions, saying that most fire starts he had heard about were lightning-caused.

Hal Doughty, deputy chief of Durango Fire & Rescue Authority, said the Forest Service’s Columbine Ranger District has reported several issues with unattended campfires, and welding activities, while not yet presenting a problem, have been known to be risky in the past.

Commissioners approved the Stage 2 restrictions, acknowledging that it was beneficial to be consistent with federal land agencies.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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