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Public land agencies remove fire restrictions ahead of July 4

Rains prompt San Juan National Forest, BLM to rescind Stage 1 measures
San Juan National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management’s Southwest Colorado District announced Thursday the agencies will relax fire restrictions ahead of the July 4 holiday. Restrictions remain in effect for La Plata County, the city of Durango and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. (Courtesy)

San Juan National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management’s Southwest Colorado District announced Thursday the agencies will rescind fire restrictions ahead of the July 4 holiday.

San Juan National Forest, including wilderness areas, and the BLM’s Gunnison, Tres Rios and Uncompahgre field offices, which oversee public lands in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan and San Miguel counties will withdraw fire restrictions Friday.

With the rule change, campfires are now allowed outside established campgrounds and developed recreation sites on San Juan National Forest and BLM lands.

However, annual restrictions remain in place for the BLM’s Durango Special Recreation Management Area, which includes Grandview, Animas City Mountain and Skyline.

San Juan County and the town of Silverton also announced Thursday they will relax Stage 1 fire restrictions on Friday.

Sustained rains that have soaked Southwest Colorado in June and outpaced monthly normals allowed the public land agencies and local governments to make the call to loosen restrictions.

“The recent rains have lowered fire danger indices within the Southwest District and the area is forecasted to receive more in coming weeks,” Brandon Lewis, the BLM’s Southwest District fire management officer, said in a news release. “We ask the public to continue exercising safe practices and recreate responsibly on public lands to prevent wildfires.”

While the BLM and San Juan National Forest ease constraints, Stage 1 fire restrictions will remain in effect for La Plata County and the city of Durango.

Restrictions are also in place for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Montezuma County.

La Plata County’s Stage 1 restrictions prohibit open burning, burn barrels, campfires, coal or wood burning stoves, and open fires in unincorporated areas of the county and on county-owned land.

Fireworks and other explosive materials are also banned and smoking is limited to an enclosed vehicle or building, or within a 3-foot area clear of flammable vegetation.

Charcoal or gas barbecue grills at private homes, fires in a designated campground and fires inside established metal rings with a grate cover on private property are allowed if they are attended and fully extinguished after use.

The county’s restrictions do not apply to private lands in the city of Durango, the towns of Bayfield and Ignacio, or to federal or tribal lands.

Variable fire danger was causing La Plata County to be cautious about removing restrictions, said La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith.

“If you look at the indices, there is some deviation (in fire danger) between the upper zone and the lower zone, so we may not align with the Forest Service on this one,” he said.

Higher elevations have received more moisture than lower elevations in recent storms, he said.

In a news release, San Juan National Forest also said danger differed across Southwest Colorado, with southern portions of La Plata and Montezuma counties still at high risk.

“We appreciate the public’s cooperation during Stage 1 and Stage 2 restrictions and would like to remind everyone that the rain has not reached all parts of Southwest Colorado equally,” Dave Neely, San Juan National Forest’s acting forest supervisor, said in a news release.

San Juan National Forest encouraged visitors to take these precautions:

  • Clear all flammable material within 3 feet of campfire rings.
  • Make a fire only if there is a shovel and sufficient water to put it out.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Keep fires small and manageable.
  • Extinguish fires completely before leaving. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

Durango Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Karola Hanks warned that the recent rains do not preclude fires from starting.

“Conditions are such that we all recognize it’s only going to take one small spark for us to have another fire,” she said in a news release.

Though fire restrictions will be in place through July 4, La Plata County could relax them as soon as next week if rains materialize over the weekend, Smith said.

“As long as the all the indices are saying that's the way we should go, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.

Ahead of the holiday, Smith cautioned that, even with the withdrawal of fire restrictions by some entities, fireworks are forbidden.

“Fireworks are never legal in Colorado. It doesn’t matter what restrictions are in place. It’s against the law,” he said.

ahannon@durangoherald.com



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