Local fireworks ban isn’t arbitrary as departments are stretched thin amid widespread fire danger
Local officers directed to write citations for setting off fireworks ‘under all circumstances’
Correction: At the time of publication, only 17.52% of Colorado was experiencing the most severe form of drought. Routt County was included in those areas.
While fireworks are a traditional part of Fourth of July celebrations, Colorado officials continue to remind people not to use flammable materials of any kind this year, as the entire state is under the most severe form of drought.
“They’re predicting extreme drought conditions throughout the year, and this has been a pattern for quite a while at this point,” Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Chuck Cerasoli said. “Large complex fires are one of our biggest concerns in the area.”
Even though Steamboat firefighters are not currently assisting with the Muddy Slide Fire in South Routt County, Cerasoli said the department is still strapped thin, as it has a small staff and is tasked with both the city’s fire and emergency medical needs.
While fireworks in some form may be allowed in other parts of the state, Steamboat has its own set of laws stating that fireworks in any form, whether they leave the ground or not, are banned within city limits. Per Routt County’s Stage 2 fire restrictions, fireworks are also banned in the county outside Steamboat city limits.
“These rules are in place because of the severe drought and the chances that something with an open flame would start something on fire,” Steamboat Springs Police Department Chief Cory Christensen said. “It’s just such a huge risk to our community.”
Christensen said he normally allows his officers to use their discretion when deciding whether or not to issue citations, but this year, he has directed officers to write fireworks citations under all circumstances.
If a person is caught lighting off fireworks, they face a misdemeanor charge with a fine up to $999, though the penalty increases if any resulting fire causes damage.
“If you set something on fire, you may be facing an arson charge or a criminal mischief charge, and that’s much more serious,” Christensen said.
While some local retailers may sell fireworks, they remain illegal to ignite within city limits.
Because of the ban, TNT Fireworks, the sole fireworks retail stand on Lincoln Avenue, closed its doors despite it being the busiest time of year for fireworks.
Originally slated to go on this year, Steamboat Lake State Park canceled its annual fireworks show Thursday due to overcrowding leading to potential fire risk, which Christensen noted as a reason no one should be using fireworks.
“I think that’s an important message out to our community that even the professionals are saying it’s too dangerous,” Christensen said. “We need to understand that they have those negative impacts on our community and on our neighborhoods.”
A study conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder found that from 1992 to 2015, humans started more wildfires on Fourth of July than any day of the year.
“There is high fire danger this year,” underscored Aaron Voos, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.
While residents and visitors can possess fireworks in Steamboat as long as they do not light them, even keeping unlit fireworks in a vehicle is prohibited on Forest Service land.
Carolina Menriquez, forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, said while small fireworks may seem harmless, all it takes is one small spark to a field of grass or patch of trees to start a fire. Once the fire starts, it can be difficult to contain, Menriquez added.
“Personal responsibility and awareness is key to avoid starting anything from (the) get go,” Menriquez said.
While the rain Routt County received this week helped contain the Muddy Slide Fire and cool the grass and trees, Cerasoli said it did little to mitigate the drought; fireworks are just as dangerous now as they were before the rain.
1. All open fires and campfires are prohibited except petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns and heating devices that are underwriter approved.
NOTE: Any permit issued by a fire protection district, the Routt County Sheriff’s Office or the Routt County Office of Emergency Management prior to this declaration is rescinded unless resubmitted and approved by the appropriate authority as identified in paragraph 1 of the exemptions section of this fire restriction notice or until these restrictions are lifted by the Routt County Board of Commissioners.
2. Smoking is restricted to enclosed vehicles and buildings.
3. All chainsaws and other internal combustion engines, including motorcycles and ATVs, must have spark-arresting devices that are properly installed and in working order.
4. Use of fireworks of any variety.
5. Use of explosives.
6. Outdoor use of welding and cutting torch devices.
7. Use of tracer rounds or incendiary targets for all shooting activities in the county.
8. Individual agencies (such as fire protection districts or state or federal organizations) may further restrict commercial activities not included in this declaration, such as construction, logging or oil and gas operations.
Source: Routt County
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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