Wet weather prompts Routt County to drop recently imposed fire restrictions

U.S. Forest Service, BLM and nearby counties are dropping fire bans on Friday too

These signs will no longer meet people as they enter the forest as Routt County and partner agencies rescinded a Stage 1 fire ban that had been in place for about two weeks.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

With wet weather in the forecast and increased fuel moisture levels, Routt County Commissioners voted Tuesday, Sept. 20, to rescind Stage 1 fire restrictions that were imposed just two weeks ago.

The change is effective at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 23, in all private and state lands in the county, and is part of a coordinated effort from multiple jurisdictions that removes restrictions across Northwest Colorado.

“We try to make it as synchronous as possible,” said Routt County Emergency Operations Director David “Mo” DeMorat, referencing a weekly meeting fire officials have been holding all summer to assess fire danger. “There is not a single jurisdiction in Northwest (Colorado) that will be in fire restrictions.”

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management intend to curb fire restrictions in their jurisdictions and Grand and Jackson counties are dropping fire bans too, DeMorat said. Moffat and Rio Blanco counties never put the restrictions in place.

While the ban was going away, Aaron Voos, spokesperson for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, stressed that people still need to be safe, as fires started in the fall are often human-caused.

“I want to make sure that if people are using fire in some way shape or form, campfire or otherwise, that they are being careful with it,” Voos said.

Fire restrictions are based on several scientific metrics such as moisture in various types of fuels, the upcoming forecast, drought conditions and other fire risks. In early September, the county was meeting five of the eight metrics, which triggered the Stage 1 restrictions.

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But since Labor Day, those metrics have eased and just two of the eight are currently met, meaning the science no longer supports fire restrictions.

“You may still have unintended or abandoned campfires from hunters, which we acknowledge is a potential, but the likelihood of one of those fires spreading rapidly have been significantly decreased with the current situation,” DeMorat said.

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Chuck Cerasoli said the city would drop their fire restrictions as well, though the Steamboat Fire Protection District still has restrictions on burning that are in place much of the year no matter what fire conditions are.

“You still can’t do an open burn pile,” Cerasoli said, adding that open burns aren’t allowed until there is snow on the ground. “You still need to have a recreational burn permit in order to have that fire pit in your backyard.”

While DeMorat wouldn’t rule out the possibility of conditions changing to where restrictions would be reinstalled, he said it was “likely” Routt County will be able to avoid fire restrictions until the snow flies.

That was actually part of the conversation on whether to remove restrictions now, as DeMorat said he and Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins both wanted to avoid a situation where restrictions would flip-flop between being put in place and being rescinded.

Not only would that be labor intensive — the Routt County Road and Bridge Department places signs informing residents of a fire ban across the county when restrictions are in place — but it also can be confusing for the public, DeMorat said.

“If it wasn’t for what we’re seeing as our forecasted weather, we probably would have stayed in another week,” DeMorat said. “But looking at the forecasted weather showing a high likelihood of a decent amount of rain starting either tonight and then throughout tomorrow and Thursday, that was what prompted us to say, let’s come out.”

The National Weather Service in Grand Junction is forecasting “heavy rain” for Steamboat Springs each day until Friday, Sept. 23. Despite that rain, the seasonal drought outlook from the Climate Prediction Center says Northwest Colorado will likely remain in drought conditions.

“While it’s been enjoyable this year, to have the moisture to not be in Stage 2 fire restrictions at all this year, I anticipate we’ll be right back there next year,” Cerasoli said. “It’s still important for everybody to look at their properties and think about mitigation work that they can be doing and how they can still prepare for a wildfire.”

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