Grim weather outlook, nearby blaze leads to early Stage 2 fire restrictions
With a wildfire already threatening Pitkin County and hot, dry, windy weather on tap for the rest of the summer, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo decided Tuesday to take no chances.
DiSalvo implemented Stage 2 fire restrictions starting Wednesday at midnight, just a week after enacting Stage 1 restrictions.
“I really think that any county with an active fire this size should go in this direction,” DiSalvo said Tuesday. “Why even tempt fate with a fire up here? I feel pretty strongly about that. This is going to be a tough (fire) year.”
The Sylvan Fire burning between Eagle and the Fryingpan Valley grew to more than 2,600 acres Tuesday and has prompted pre-evacuation notices for the Thomasville-Meredith area.
Stage 2 fire restrictions will go into effect in Pitkin County at midnight Wednesday. Adjacent counties and officials with the U.S. Forest Service/White River National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management are planning to implement similar restrictions later in the week, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release and DiSalvo.
“A Stage 2 fire restriction essentially prohibits all fires, whether you’re in an established campsite or on the back deck at your house,” the sheriff said in the release. “My deputies will enforce this fire restriction and will issue citations to those who violate it.”
The restrictions include a ban on all fires, including charcoal barbecues, coal and wood-burning stoves and all campfires, even in metal rings within developed campgrounds. In addition, smoking is only allowed in enclosed vehicles, buildings or areas cleared of combustible materials, while fireworks, explosives, welding and use of a chainsaw or other internal combustion engine without a spark arrester are prohibited.
Penalties for violating the restrictions include a $500 fine for the first offense, $750 for the second and $1,000 plus possible jail time for the third offense.
DiSalvo said he decided to implement the Stage 2 restrictions immediately rather than wait until the end of the week to give anyone coming to the area to camp this weekend or for the Fourth of July time to change plans if a campfire is integral to camping plans.
“I’d rather do it sooner so east-slopers coming here can change their plans,” he said.
If conditions worsen, Stage 3 fire restrictions could be implemented, which would close wilderness areas, DiSalvo said.
The long-range forecast for the Western Slope is concerning when it comes to fire danger, said Jeff Colton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. Last summer, for example, wildfires began igniting in mid-to-late July.
“We’re about a month ahead of last year,” Colton said. “It’s not a good sign.”
The long-range forecast for Western Colorado this summer — which includes a timeframe through about Aug. 30 — is for dry conditions, above-average temperatures and gusty winds, he said. While there could be surges of moisture from time to time, storms aren’t expected to drop large amounts of rain and are expected to be accompanied by lightning.
“Based on what we’re seeing, it’s not taking much to get a fire going at this point,” Colton said. (A lightning strike started a wildland fire Friday evening in Snowmass Canyon.)
And while a cool-down period of lower temperatures and possible rain is forecast for the end of this week, higher temperatures and dry conditions are expected to return soon after and remain. In addition, while monsoon activity is starting to look possible in southern Arizona and Mexico, whether it makes if farther north into Colorado is still in question, he said.
“The overall pattern in the next 60 days is for above-normal temperatures and dry conditions,” Colton said.
Pitkin County’s emergency manager, Valerie MacDonald, urged all residents to create an emergency evacuation plan in case of a fast-moving wildfire.
“Make sure you have signed up for emergency alert notifications, know your evacuation routes, have a 72-hour go-bag ready and, most importantly, leave early,” according to the Sheriff’s Office news release Tuesday.
For more information on forming an evacuation plan, go to ready.gov/plan. Go to http://www.pitkinemergency.com for more information about fire restrictions.
Other fire-related questions can be directed toward your nearest fire district, including Aspen Fire Protection District at 970-925-5532, Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District at 970-963-2491 and Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority at 970-340-7040.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at 970-920-5300 and White River National Forest information is available at 970-963-2255.
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