Aspen-area forest visitors generally complying with fire restrictions | AspenTimes.com

Aspen-area forest visitors generally complying with fire restrictions

National forest visitors in the Aspen area have done a good job of resisting the urge to light campfires or undertake other activities that could spark a wildland fire, U.S. Forest Service officials said Tuesday.

A law enforcement officer has issued 11 citations for violating fire restrictions since they first went into place June 15, according to Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer. Stage 1 restrictions, which allowed campfires at established campgrounds but prohibited them in dispersed, backcountry sites, went into effect June 15. They were bumped up to Stage 2 restrictions, which also ban fires at campgrounds, on June 30 because of the ongoing drought.

"I think we've done a pretty good job getting the word out about the fire restrictions with the help of partners," Schroyer said Tuesday.

A Forest Service law enforcement officer cited two individuals or groups last weekend in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District for using charcoal grills, Schroyer said. Prior to that the officer had issued nine citations for violating the fire ban. That included four tickets for leaving a fire without completely extinguishing it (when they were allowed in Stage 1 restrictions); one for carelessly or negligently throwing or placing any ignited substance that may cause fire; and four for building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire or stove fire.

“We know we’re not catching every act of non-compliance out there, but I think this tells a pretty compelling story that our visitors are hearing our message about fire restrictions and most of them are complying.”

— Karen Schroyer, USFS

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She noted that the law enforcement officer was helping with the Lake Christine Fire for several days rather than patrolling forestlands, so that could have reduced the number of citations. Nevertheless, the relatively low number citations pleased her.

"I thought they would be higher," Schroyer said. "Of course, we know we're not catching every act of non-compliance out there, but I think this tells a pretty compelling story that our visitors are hearing our message about fire restrictions and most of them are complying."

She said wilderness rangers have the ability to write citations for violations of the fire restrictions in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and other designated wilderness areas, but no citations have been issued this summer. Fires are never allowed above 10,800 feet in elevation.

Campground hosts also have helped patrol developed areas and made sure visitors are aware of the ban on campfires and other restrictions.

Schroyer said the concessionaire operating Forest Service campgrounds in the Fryingpan Valley have taken a hit because of the fire. White River recreation reported that it has had 47 cancellations for campsites at Chapman, Dearhammer and Ruedi campgrounds since July 3, when the fire started.

Revenue for the company from operations in Fryingpan Valley were down 35 percent for the week of July 4 compared with the same week last year, and down 45 percent last week, according to information given to Schroyer. That includes revenue from firewood sales in addition to campsite fees.

Meanwhile, the Lake Christine Fire was considered 59 percent contained Tuesday after it had covered 6,822 acres.

Firefighters have made enough progress that the Upper Colorado Type 3 Management Team decided to lift pre-evacuation notices today at 8 a.m. for residents of Basalt and El Jebel, according to public information officer Mike McMillan. The pre-evacuation notice remains in effect for Missouri Heights, which is adjacent to where the fire is burning on Basalt Mountain.

McMillan said the fire management team wanted to put Basalt and El Jebel residents more at ease.

"They've been on edge just because of the existence of the pre-evacuation notice," he said. "Many people still have their cars packed up."

Parts of Basalt and El Jebel were ordered to evacuate during the heat of the battle July 3 to 5. All orders were lifted by late last week, but residents were told to stay alert for changing fire conditions and keep valuables packed in case quick action was needed.

Eagle County estimated that 2,575 residents live in the areas that were under an evacuation order, based on 2010 U.S. Census data. Hundreds more from neighborhoods such as Sopris Village, Blue Lake and Summit Vista evacuated at least for the night of July 4, based on widespread anecdotal evidence.

While some firefighters and equipment were transferred to other fires over the weekend, there are still significant resources dedicated to the Lake Christine Fire. That includes 214 personnel with five hand crews, nine engines, three water tenders, one bulldozer and three helicopters, according to the latest information from the management team.

"Extremely rugged, rocky terrain is preventing firefighters from building fire line directly on the fire's north and east flanks," said a statement released by the incident management team Tuesday. "Crews are mopping up, improving and patrolling control lines (Tuesday), supported by helicopters dropping water on hotspots as needed.

"Flames are backing and creeping in these areas and fire spread is limited. Smoke will be visible as the fuels in these areas burn themselves out. Depending upon wind direction and intensity, smoke may settle in area communities at times," the statement continued.

The cost of the firefighting effort as of Monday night was $7.06 million, according to federal authorities.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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