With much of Southwest Colorado in “exceptional drought,” the most severe category, fire restrictions are being enacted throughout the region.
On Wednesday, La Plata County and the San Juan National Forest will put in place Stage 1 fire restrictions that ban fires, including the use of charcoals or briquettes outside metal or concrete fire pits or grates in developed campgrounds and picnic areas.
La Plata County’s restrictions will allow for propane grills at private residences.
The Forest Service also allows the use of propane-fueled grills or sheepherder-type stoves with a chimney of at least 5 feet, a mesh screen and a spark arrestor.
La Plata County Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton, at Tuesday’s commission meeting, said: “I certainly support going to Stage 1. Unfortunately, looking at where all this is going and looking at all the data, we probably are going to be assessing whether to go to Stage 2.”
In a letter to the commissioners, John Lee, chairman of the La Plata County Fire Chiefs Association and chief of the Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District, said fuel and fire science monitoring show current conditions support “easy ignition and rapid growth and spread of wildland fire.”
“Based on the current state of drought conditions in Southwest Colorado and projections for continued hot, dry and windy conditions with no significant expectations for appreciable precipitation, it is our opinion that the likelihood of multiple, significant fires is high,” Lee said in his letter.
Southwest Colorado is listed in exceptional drought, the most severe category by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Weather forecasts expect critical fire conditions in the region for the foreseeable future, according to a SJNF news release issued Tuesday.
The SJNF prohibitions and bans listed under Stage 1 fire restrictions include:
- Igniting, building, maintaining or using a fire (including fires fueled by charcoal or briquettes) outside a permanent metal or concrete fire pit or grate that the Forest Service has installed and maintained at its developed recreation sites (campgrounds and picnic areas). The fee for violating the fire ban is $500.
- Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle or building or in a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter barren or cleared of all flammable materials. The fine for violating the smoking ban is $300.
- Operating a chainsaw without an effective and properly installed and federally approved spark arrestor. Anyone using a permitted chainsaw with a spark arrestor must also have a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher with at least an 8-ounce capacity. They also must have a round-point shovel with an overall length of 35 inches. The fine for violating the chainsaw prohibition is $300.
- Blasting, welding or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame without being in a cleared area of at least 10 feet in diameter and keeping a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher with a minimum 8-ounce capacity. The fine for violation is $300.
- Using explosives is banned. This prohibition includes but is not limited to fuses, blasting caps, fireworks, rockets, exploding targets, tracers and incendiary ammunition. The fine for violating this prohibition ranges from $300 to $500 for exploding targets.
The use of fireworks is always prohibited in the SJNF, said Lorena Williams, forest spokeswoman.
Neighboring federal, state and local fire managers are also examining the enactment of fire restrictions.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions Monday for all trust lands throughout the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. Montezuma County and Archuleta County also announced fire bans this week.
According to the Forest Service, almost 90% of all wildfires on public lands are started by humans.
For information about current fire restrictions, conditions and recreation opportunities in the San Juan National Forest, call 247-4874 or visit the forest’s website.
In unincorporated areas of La Plata County, the Sage I Fire restrictions ban:
- Building, maintaining or attending open fires including campfires in unincorporated areas. The restrictions also ban the use of coal-burning or wood-burning stoves or any charcoal-fueled broiler.
- Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building or in a developed recreation site or any area thaat has at least a 3-foot diameter that has been cleared of vegetation or is barren.
- Using explosives, blasting caps or any incendiary devices. The ban allows for blasting in development areas or for construction purposes as long as there is a continuous watch and written authorization is obtained from the local fire chief.
- Welding or using acetylene or other torches, unless there is a fire watch individual on site with easy access to firefighting tools including a fire extinguisher, a pressurized water supply, hand tools and there is a 20-foot radius safe zone free of vegetation around the activity.
- Operating any internal-combustion engine except those equiped with a properly installed and maintained spark arrestor.
- Lighting and using fireworks.
- Using sky lanterns, fire balloons or acetylene balloons.
The county fire restrictions allow for oil and gas production activities under tightened restrictions to protect against accidental fires.