La Plata County will not downgrade its fire restrictions because, commissioners said Thursday, weather conditions and fire danger have not changed to justify the move.
Commissioners unanimously decided to keep Stage 3 fire restrictions in place.
“It feels to me disingenuous to say a week ago we had a crisis ... and a week later we get an inch of rain and magically that threat isn’t there anymore,” said Commissioner Julie Westendorff. “And I don’t think our community believes it.”
The commissioners’ action stands directly opposite of those taken by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the city of Durango, which downgraded fire restrictions on their lands and re-opened the forest, trails and other open spaces Thursday or prepared to open Friday.
Since April, Southwest Colorado has been in an extreme drought, prompting the region to enact various levels of fire restrictions in an effort to prevent wildfire.
In June, fire danger reached a critical level as two active wildfires – the 416 and Burro – burned through the San Juan National Forest.
The dire situation led the Forest Service to close all 1.8 million acres of the San Juan National Forest. The Bureau of Land Management, the city of Durango and La Plata County also followed suit and closed all public lands to recreation.
The closure was part of enacting Stage 3 fire restrictions, the highest level of restrictions.
The Forest Service, BLM and city said weather this week has tempered fire activity. These agencies also say more resources to fight new fires are now available.
Southwest Colorado received 0.5 inches to 1.5 inches of rain this past weekend, enough to slow down the active fires but not put them out.
Fire experts for the 416 Fire, however, said by this weekend, all benefits of the rain will be gone and the area will return to high, critical fire danger. The National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning for Friday.
“I’m having a really hard time believing the facts that lead to a potential fire getting out of control have changed significantly enough to send a message to the community that it’s not as bad today as it was last week,” Westendorff said.
In addition to maintaining previous restrictions, Stage 3 will add these additional closures/restrictions/ prohibitions:
The closure of all La Plata County owned trails, encampments, open space and unimproved lands.
Those agricultural producers exempt from fire bans pursuant to C.R.S. §§ 30-15-401(n.5)(III) and 35-28-104(11) may perform agricultural burning only with 48 hours prior notification to the appropriate fire chief or the sheriff.
Indoor fire places and wood-burning stoves without an approved interior and exterior chimney spark arrestor.
The sale, discharge or use of any kind of firework or other pyrotechnic device (including Fourth of July celebrations).
The use of floating sky lanterns, fire balloons or acetylene balloons.
Discharge of firearms or the use of exploding targets, unless under the circumstances described in C.R.S. § 30-15-302.
Blasting in development areas or construction areas.
The use of an explosive, blasting caps or any other incendiary device, including the use of any model rockets.
Flaring for oil and gas production wells.
Operation of coal-fired steam engines.
Certain exemptions apply to these prohibitions. They include:
Any federal, state or local officer or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.
Flaring at centralized processing and compressing facilities is permitted so long as all conditions and requirements issued by applicable regulators are satisfied.
Emergency repair of public utilities.
Fires permitted by the La Plata County Sheriff or local fire chiefs within their jurisdiction, if, in their professional opinions, such action is appropriate, safe and prudent.