Routt County to enter Stage 2 fire ban Wednesday; National Forest remains under Stage 1
September 25, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Stage 2 fire restrictions will be in effect in unincorporated parts of Routt County at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning. Routt National Forest remains under Stage 1 fire restrictions.
A Stage 2 fire ban is more restrictive, with the biggest difference being that campfires are not allowed anywhere.
Why advance fire restrictions?
Officials consider seven criteria including how many resources are tied up fighting existing fires, drought conditions, weather and how much moisture is in the vegetation that would fuel a fire.
To obtain a permit to have a campfire or use welding or acetylene torches, contact:
• North Routt Fire Protection District, 970-879-6064
• Oak Creek Fire Protection District, 970-736-8104
• Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District, 970-879-7170
• West Routt Fire Protection District, 970-276-3796
• Yampa Fire Protection District, 970-638-4227
If you’re seeking a permit outside of a fire protection district, contact the Routt County Emergency Management Office at 970-870-5549.
For more information on fire restrictions in Routt National Forest, contact:
• Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District, 970-870-2299
• Parks Ranger District, 970-723-2701
• Yampa Ranger District, 970-638-4516
Right now, Routt County is meeting five of those criteria, Routt County Emergency Operations Director David "Mo" DeMorat told the county commissioners as they considered entering Stage 2 restrictions.
"In the forecast, I don't see any relief in sight," Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said. "I don't think things are going to get any better than this. I don't think we should just keep kicking the can down the road."
Wiggins, DeMorat and Routt County commissioners worried about the county's ability to enforce restrictions when people have illegal fires. Wiggins also expressed concern that entering Stage 2 would be confusing for the public.
"If we do go into Stage 2, it's going to be confusing for anybody coming to the high country, because we're going to be the only county up here in Stage 2," he said.
Moffat, Grand, Jackson, Rio Blanco and Summit counties remain under Stage 1 restrictions.
"We understand that by going to Stage 2, it's not a magic thing. It doesn't stop lightning," Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said.
"You can't teach stupid," Commissioner Doug Monger interjected.
"Right," Corrigan said. "And we don't really have the ability to truly enforce it, and it does represent — it could represent — a burden to agricultural producers that need to fix their equipment, but there are waivers available. From my perspective, while Stage 2 may not have a substantive difference to people's activities, it raises the awareness to a heightened level, and based upon that, I'm inclined to support a Stage 2 (restriction)."
The Forest Service decided to remain under Stage 1 restrictions because burn periods are becoming shorter in the National Forest, according to Aaron Voos, a spokesperson for Routt National Forest.
"We are still having occasional fires. It's still a dry time of year," he said. "The burn periods are shorter — shorter days, colder nights, more potential for moisture or cooler weather, and especially at the higher elevations, which are in the National Forest."
Because of this and other indicators, the Forest Service determined Stage 1 restrictions were sufficient.
"We just didn't feel that we needed to go to Stage 2, even though there obviously still is fire danger, and we still are seeing some instances of human-caused fires," Voos said.
Over the weekend, Forest Service firefighters extinguished one escaped campfire. DeMorat said an illegal campfire also caused the Torso Creek Fire.
There is a high probability that the Ryan Fire, which started near the Wyoming border nearby a Forest Service trail, was also caused by humans, Voos said, though the cause is still under investigation. The fire was 30 percent contained at 19,962 acres on Tuesday afternoon.
What's not allowed in Routt County?
The county's Stage 2 fire restrictions prohibit all campfires, including those in fire pits in developed campgrounds and picnic areas, on non-federal land. Camp stoves with shut off valves are still allowed, as long as they are burning at least 3 feet away from flammable materials.
Smoking is allowed only within an enclosed space — a vehicle, trailer or building.
The restrictions also ban the operation of welding and acetylene torches outdoors. Explosives, including fuses, blasting caps, fireworks, rockets, exploding targets and tracer rounds are not allowed.
Chainsaw operators should have an approved spark arrestor on the saw and keep an eight-ounce or larger chemical fire extinguisher and shovel ready for use.
Violating fire restrictions can result in a fine of up to $100 for the first offense, up to $200 for the second and up to $1,000 for subsequent offenses. Should firefighters have to work to control and contain a human-caused fire, the parties responsible can be required to reimburse agencies for the cost of suppressing the fire.
What's not allowed in the National Forest?
Under Stage 1 fire restrictions, campfires are allowed only in campfire rings in developed campgrounds. A list of campgrounds is available on the U.S. Forest Service's website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/mbr/recreation/camping-cabins/?recid=22482&actid=29.
Campfires are not allowed in dispersed campsites along trails and Forest Service roads. Camp stoves can be used in these areas.
Smoking is allowed in a vehicle or indoors, or outdoors in areas at least three feet in diameter that are barren and cleared of flammable material.
Chainsaw operators should have an approved spark arrestor on the saw and keep a chemical fire extinguisher and shovel ready for use.
Welding and acetylene torches are allowed in cleared areas at least 10 feet wide with a fire extinguisher available for use.
How to obtain an exemption
For many ranchers and other industries in the county, fire restrictions pose a concern if heavy equipment breaks down. Machinery is frequently repaired in the field.
"How do you fix that machinery if outdoor welding and torches are illegal or unlawful?" DeMorat asked.
Those who need to use torches and other banned equipment outdoors can contact their local fire protection district to receive a permit. In the areas of the county that are not in a fire protection district, they should reach out to the Routt County Emergency Management Office.
Firefighters or law enforcement will inspect the area where the repair is to be completed to ensure proper safety measures are in place, such as clearing flammable materials and vegetation and onsite water tanks.
Wiggins said he was able to approve exemptions within a few hours of being contacted the last time the county was in Stage 2 restrictions.