Forest Service considers ban of backcountry fires | AspenTimes.com
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Forest Service considers ban of backcountry fires

Thirty-two days without rain – and counting – along with tinder-dry conditions will likely force federal officials to implement fire restrictions in the White River National Forest this week.

Restrictions are being contemplated by the U.S. Forest Service that would prohibit backpackers and car campers from lighting fires unless they were in a fire pit in a developed campground, according to Sue Froeschle, public information officer for the forest supervisor’s office.

She said “Stage One” restrictions could be put in place this week. Those are the least restrictive regulations. They are designed to minimize chances of a human-caused fire by requiring people to take precautions.

“Stage Two is when we really clamp down,” she said. Those greater restrictions include bans on all fires. That isn’t being contemplated yet.

Froeschle said a big factor in considering the first round of restrictions is fire-fighting efforts. Several small fires around Colorado and the region have sapped fire-fighting resources. Personnel and aircraft available to fight new fires has dwindled, she said.

Two fires are burning northeast of Glenwood Springs. The Crane Park fire burned about 20 acres along Coffee Pot Road, which leads into the Flat Tops area. It’s about 11 miles northeast of Glenwood Springs.

The fire was expected to be mostly contained by last night, according to Patricia McGuire, information officer.

“The cause of this was confirmed and it was an escaped campfire,” she said. A camper had scraped dirt onto a backcountry fire but that failed to totally extinguish it, according to McGuire. That should reinforce the danger of fires to all campers, she said.

The Dotsero Crater fire about 1.5 miles off Interstate 70 at Dotsero had charred about 1,232 acres. It was 35 percent contained as of Sunday night. No update was available yesterday. Four crews of 20 firefighters each were expected on the scene by today.

That fire is also believed to have been caused by humans, said McGuire. An investigation is under way.

Both fires started Friday. The Crane Park fire was on national forest land. The Dotsero Crater fire is on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property.

Conditions have turned dangerously dry after all the benefits of a wet spring disappeared. Aspen hasn’t received any rain in July. The last sizable rainfall came June 13 when 0.4 of an inch fell, according to DayWeather Inc., a Cheyenne, Wyo., company that tracks weather for The Aspen Times.

Conditions for the Aspen area aren’t as dry as last year, “but we’re not all that far off,” said Mark Heuer, a meteorologist with DayWeather. The monsoon that typically brings afternoon showers to the Colorado mountains are at least seven to 10 days away, he said.

Scattered thunderstorms up until then will likely only bring wind and lightning – “activity we don’t want to see,” said Heuer.

Given the conditions and forecasts, Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said it is wise for the Forest Service to consider fire restrictions. The wet spring gave some people a false sense of confidence about the fire danger, he said.

“Our moisture contents are getting close to what they were last year,” Thompson said, referring to the moisture levels in trees, bushes and vegetation.

Local fire danger in much of the backcountry of the Roaring Fork Valley vaulted to extreme right after July 4, Thompson noted.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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