BLM fire restrictions go into effect

John StroudPost IndependentAspen, CO Colorado

SILT, Colo. – Earlier-than-usual dry conditions across much of western Colorado have prompted federal officials to impose fire restrictions on Bureau of Land Management lands in the Roaring Fork and Colorado river valleys.The restrictions take effect today, including BLM lands in Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle and Mesa counties. Some portions of southern Routt County and northern portions of Delta and Montrose counties are also included in the restriction area.A 2.8-acre fire that started on private land on Silt Mesa Tuesday afternoon and quickly spread to BLM land is a prime example of the high fire danger, BLM spokesman David Boyd said.The cause of the fire was determined to be from a bullet ricochet when someone was target shooting, Boyd said on Wednesday.”It really illustrates the point that it’s not just the obvious stuff, like campfires and cigarette butts,” Boyd said. “Shooting, or anything that can cause a spark can set off the dry grass.”Firefighters worked into the night Tuesday to put the fire out. A helicopter, two local engines, two federal engines and about eight local firefighters initially responded to the fire.The newly imposed BLM fire restrictions mean:• Campfires are only allowed within designated fire grates in developed BLM campgrounds. No fires of any type, including charcoal, are allowed outside of developed areas.• No smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or in an area free of vegetation.• No use of explosive materials.• No welding or use of torch devices, unless in area that’s been cleared of vegetation by at least 10 square feet.• No operation of any internal combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed and in working order.Boyd said fire managers base decisions about fire restrictions on specific moisture measurements in vegetation. The unusually dry spring has increased fire danger at elevations below 8,000 feet.”It is unusual to be in restrictions in May,” he said. “It varies by year, but we usually don’t see conditions this dry until the end of June.”The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, working in conjunction with fire district chiefs in the county, also enacted the usual summertime open burn ban earlier than usual this year, Sheriff Lou Vallario said.Garfield County abides by the International Fire Code, which prohibits all open burning without a permit issued by the local fire district or the sheriff.”Annually, the fire chiefs and I agree on a time when none of us will issue a permit,” Vallario said. That’s usually between Memorial Day in late May and Labor Day in early September, he said.”However, this year we chose to enact the ban early and it is currently in place,” Vallario said.Fire chiefs still have the discretion to issue a permit if they believe conditions are suitable, he added.Pitkin County also has had a ban on open burning in place since last month. Eagle County, as of Monday, did not have ban on small recreational fires. Permits are required for any other open burning.So far, the White River National Forest has not enacted fire restrictions, due to the higher elevations and varying moisture conditions, according to the BLM’s press release announcing its restrictions.”Forest officials remind visitors, however, that a fire danger is always present,” the BLM press release stated. “Smoking, chainsaws and vehicle exhausts and converters can all cause fires.”The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre & Gunnison National Forests (GMUG) has issued fire restrictions for the Gunnison Ranger District only.And, fireworks are always prohibited on BLM, national forest and national park service lands.Violation of federal fire restrictions is punishable by a fine of not more than $100,000 or imprisonment for not more than 12 months or both, plus restitution costs, according to the BLM