Our view: An ounce of prevention
A small wildfire sparked by an abandoned campfire ignited last week on Rabbit Ears Pass
It is incumbent upon campers and hunters who choose to build campfire to ensure they are completely extinguished before abandoning them
We were taken aback this week by news that Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue had to respond to a wildfire on Rabbit Ears Pass that was attributed to an abandoned campfire. We would have thought people in the region would have gotten the message by now.
The fire, which burned an area about the size of a single-family building lot near the Walton Peak Trailhead, was quickly put out. What confounds us is how, with all the news of wildfires burning around the periphery of the Yampa Valley this summer, there are still people who don’t grasp the danger.
Routt County has stayed out of harm’s way this summer, but there have been some close calls. As of the afternoon of Sept. 16, the Silver Creek Fire on Lynx Pass in South Routt was still listed as being ”active,” and the burned area stood at 322 acres. And let us not forget that the 38,350-acre Beaver Creek Fire, though it has had little impact on our area, is, after all, in the Routt National Forest.
Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said the Sept. 14 fire on Rabbit Ears surprised him, too, given the area had received some light precipitation overnight and the relative humidity was high that day.
“It goes to show you how dry the fuels are,” Struble said. He confirmed Sept. 16 that there are currently no campfire bans in the four-county area that includes Jackson, Routt, Moffat and Rio Branco counties.
That puts even more emphasis on campers and hunters who decide to light campfires to take responsibility for making certain they are extinguished and cold before abandoning them. It’s widely known that the forests of Northwest Colorado are thick with dead timber, elevating the chances for large wildfires.
The U.S. Forest Service reports that wildfires started by campfires typically involve a campfire that has been abandoned without being thoroughly extinguished, allowing a gust of wind to blow sparks into surrounding grass or tree needles.
The Forest Service offers the following recommendations.
• Build fires well away from tree roots, stumps and overhanging branches.
• Tend fires at all times.
• Completely extinguish a campfire by stirring it with adequate amounts of dirt and water until it is cold to the touch of a bare hand.
• It is important that there is no warmth left in the campfire.
• Do not use fireworks, all types of which are prohibited in the National Forest.
With the first rifle hunting season for elk set to begin Oct. 15, a little less than a month away, the importance of campfire safety ratchets up with hundreds of hunters in the woods.
We urge campers this fall to consider relying on cook stoves instead of cooking over open fires. If you are determined to build a campfire, we call upon you to take a shovel and a bucket for dousing the fire, and identify the nearest water source before lighting a match.
The Walton Peak Trailhead — given that there is no campground there, just a large parking lot off the highway — strikes us as an unusual place for someone to have a campfire. But if it had to happen, this week’s fire might have been in the right place.
It was certain to be quickly noticed, Struble agreed.
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