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Our View: Wildfire

Let’s get serious about fire prevention

It’s hot. Really hot.

Some days this week, depending on where you were in the Four Corners, the temperatures exceeded 100 degrees.

It’s also dry. Really dry. And hazy. Smoke has been traveling into our area from fires burning as far away as California and southern Arizona, and from at least one wildfire in our own backyard.

The Durango area already has had its first fire scare of the season. The Vosburg Pike Fire erupted about 8 miles east of town Wednesday, growing from 40 to 70 acres in one short hour. Smoke wafted into Durango for some time before the winds shifted.

We all know what this means. We have to do our part. Ninety percent of all fires are human-caused.

On Wednesday, La Plata County and the San Juan National Forest instituted Stage 1 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 five feet, a mesh screen and a spark arrestor.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has also instituted Stage 1 fire restrictions.

Some authorities will likely be announcing higher-level restrictions soon, as exceptional drought conditions threaten to make 2021 a very dangerous year.

This is a good time to think back to your Girl Scout or Boy Scout training, if you were lucky enough to have that experience, and to tell your small children about Smokey Bear.

Never, at any time of year, anywhere, should cigarettes or other smoking materials be tossed away. They should be thoroughly extinguished and disposed of in a proper, fireproof container.

If anything you do involves fire or the potential for fire – welding and outdoor cooking come to mind – you should have a bucket of water and a fire extinguisher at the ready to put out any floating sparks.

Any fire should be thoroughly extinguished, checked and double-checked. Many of us have had the frightening experience of realizing a campfire we thought we’d put out last night still had live embers in it the next morning.

Fireworks shouldn’t be used during a time like this. We will all live to see another fireworks display and get to set off our own in the future, we hope. For now, just don’t do it. Let’s have Fourth of July parties that include watching fireworks displays on TV elsewhere in the country, where fire is not an acute danger.

We support the imposition of fines for anyone violating the fire restrictions, anytime, anywhere. Fire prevention is too important to be lax about enforcing. We also encourage homeowners to follow pre-evacuation and evacuation orders. If you don’t, you risk not only your own lives but also the lives of firefighters who will be tasked with trying to save you from your own foolhardy decisions.

City and county authorities must take responsibility for making sure visitors are warned about fire restrictions and the severe danger because of drought. Fire is something that’s hard to believe in as an existential threat unless you live in a place where it poses such a threat.

And as always, we salute those who have made their careers in the work of firefighting and fire prevention and mitigation, whether they are regular employees of our local fire departments, federal seasonal wildlands firefighters, or other fire and law enforcement officers who help warn us and keep us safe from fire. It’s hard, hot, dangerous work that can threaten the lives of those who do it and harm their health for the long term. We’re grateful for those who are willing to take those risks and make those sacrifices.

Summer is upon us. Let’s make it a safe one.

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