GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Local and federal fire officials are marking the 10th anniversary of the devastating 2002 Coal Seam Fire near Glenwood Springs with a ban on all open burning and campfires outside of established fire pits, in what is being described as the worst fire danger season in 10 years.
The White River National Forest, headquartered in Glenwood, and Garfield County announced the new fire restrictions Thursday. The ban prohibits open fires anywhere on the forest or in unincorporated parts of the county, except in developed campgrounds and under other strict conditions.
The ban is similar to ones already in place on local Bureau of Land Management lands, and in neighboring Eagle and Pitkin counties.
"The Forest Service and Garfield County Sheriff's Office are working hand-in-hand in an effort to prevent human-caused wildfires during this dangerously dry fire season," according to a joint press release from the WRNF and the sheriff's office.
"This decision was made in consultation with local fire departments and fire protection districts," according to the release.
The fire danger on the Western Slope is heightened by long-range weather forecasts predicting continuing dry conditions, with the potential for high winds resulting in red flag warnings.
"I realize these restrictions will cause some inconveniences to forest users," said WRNF Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. "But the conditions we are experiencing are severe, the potential for large expensive wildfires is real, and we need to take these steps to minimize the potential for human-caused fire."
The ban affects the building, maintaining, attending or using of a fire, campfire, coal or wood-burning stove, or any type of charcoal-fueled broiler or other open fire.
Exceptions include campfires or cooking fires in constructed, permanent fire pits or fire grates within developed Forest Service camp and picnic grounds or recreation sites, as well as petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns or heating devices that meet safety specifications.
Chainsaws and other devices equipped with a spark arrestor are also allowed, but operators must have a shovel and fire extinguisher handy.
Smoking of cigarettes, except within an enclosed vehicle, building or developed recreation site, is also not allowed. Fireworks are not allowed at any time on any public lands administered by the Forest Service, BLM or the National Park Service.
In a separate press release, the BLM also advised that 2002 was the last "bad" fire year in Colorado, when multiple large fires, including Coal Seam, burned throughout the state.
The Coal Seam Fire burned 12,209 acres around Glenwood Springs, destroying 29 residences and 14 outbuildings, and costing $9 million to suppress. The fire eventually burned into the Flat Tops, and wasn't declared out until Dec. 13 of that year.
"So far this year, fuel moisture readings in this area are very similar to what we saw in 2002," according to BLM spokesman David Boyd.
Other damaging and costly fires in Garfield County during the 2002 fire season included:
• Spring Creek Fire north of New Castle, June 22, 13,490 acres; no structures lost, $7.5 million cost.
• Panorama Fire on private land north of Carbondale, started July 31 from a welder; 2,400 acres, $400,000 suppression costs.
• Thompson Creek west of Carbondale, 171 acres.