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Stage 1 fire restrictions take effect Friday in Routt County, Steamboat Springs

Smoke rises from the Streeter Fire in Moffat County earlier in the month. Blazes in neighboring counties were among the primary reasons Routt County and Steamboat Springs enacted fire restrictions, which take effect at 8 a.m. on Friday.
Courtesy/Kyle Lewis

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Stage 1 fire restrictions will take effect at 8 a.m. Friday across unincorporated areas of Routt County, following approval of an ordinance from the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Thursday.

Shortly after, the city of Steamboat Springs also enacted fire restrictions within city limits starting at the same time, according to Interim Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli with Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue.

This comes amid a growing risk of wildfires in the area due mostly to dry conditions and adverse weather, namely lightning, according to David “Mo” DeMorat, the county’s director of emergency management. 

“The conditions are dry and hazardous for wildfires,” he told the commissioners.

Blazes in neighboring Rio Blanco County have stretched state and federal resources thin, DeMorat added, making it all the more important to reduce the potential for additional fires. Rio Blanco and Moffat counties are among the areas that already have enacted Stage 1 restrictions.

The local ban applies to any fire for burning trash, debris, fence rows, irrigation ditches or vegetation, any campfire, warming fire and charcoal grill, except if it is in designated campgrounds, picnic areas or developed recreational sites. The ban also prohibits smoking, except inside an enclosed vehicle or building, developed recreational site or in an area with a 3-foot diameter clear of any flammable material, such as dry grass or brush.

People may continue to have fires on their private property, either for recreation, cooking or in irrigation ditches, if they have a valid permit.

Stage 1 restrictions

The following acts are prohibited on all private and state owned lands outside of municipal boundaries. This does not affect federal lands within Routt County.

  1. Building, maintaining, attending or using any fire to burn trash, debris, fence rows, irrigation ditches or vegetation, any campfire, warming fire, charcoal grill, except in designated campgrounds, picnic areas or developed recreational sites.
  2. Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreational site, or while stopped in an area of at least 3-feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material.
  3. Operating a chainsaw without a USDA or SAE approved spark arresting device (muffler) properly installed and in effective working order, and a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher of not less than 8-ounce capacity by weight, and one round pointed shovel with an overall length of at least 36 inches. The extinguisher will be with the chainsaw operator. The shovel may be kept with the fueling supplies but readily available for quick use.
  4. Welding or operating acetylene or other torch with open flame; except within an area that is barren or cleared of all flammable material at least 10 feet on all sides from the equipment.
  5. Using explosives requiring fuses or blasting caps.

Source: Board of Routt County Commissioners

DeMorat admitted that the variables local fire departments and public land agencies use to gauge wildfire risk have not risen to the level typical of such restrictions. For example, the U.S. Geological Survey’s fire potential index shows Routt County’s risk of wildfires to be relatively low. However, considering current conditions and weather forecasts, he urged the commissioners to take proactive measures.

Commissioner Tim Corrigan supported the ordinance, though he acknowledged it poses an inconvenience to landowners with remaining burning projects or campers who want to have a campfire. 

“In my opinion, this is the rational thing to do,” Corrigan said. “Especially given our current set of circumstances, we need to try to avoid having to deploy resources to fight fires.”

Commissioner Beth Melton voiced similar support, alluding to how the COVID-19 pandemic and active fires make it particularly important to exercise caution.

“We have to do what we can to prevent fires. It feels more imperative this year because there are additional strains on resources,” Melton said.

Commissioner Doug Monger was not present for the discussion or to vote.

Air operations may be limited at times throughout the day today due to thunderstorms moving through the fire area….

Posted by Rio Blanco County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, July 16, 2020

Three fires currently are burning in Rio Blanco County near Meeker, the largest of which, called the Fawn Creek Fire, had reached 3,130 acres by Thursday afternoon, according to a Facebook post from the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office. Officials suspect lightning sparked the blazes. Incoming thunderstorms could bring more lightning strikes and high winds, they said. 

Anyone who violates the local fire ban commits a Class 2 petty offense and pays a fine based on the number of offenses. The first offense carries a potential fine of up to $100. The second offense goes up to $200. The maximum fine permitted by law is $1,000.  

Similar fire restrictions already exist in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and on Bureau of Land Management areas. 

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.


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