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Fire bans enacted in Pitkin, Eagle counties to protect fire responders

A firefighter works hotspots on a wildland fire off of Snowmass Creek Road on Wednesday. Snowmass Ski Area is visible in the background.
Roaring Fork Fire Rescue/courtesy photo

Pitkin and Eagle counties followed the U.S. Forest Service lead on Thursday by issuing a fire ban that was prompted more by the threat of COVID-19 than conditions on the ground.

The Stage 1 fire bans in both counties go into effect 12:01 a.m. Saturday and will remain in place until further notice. The counties’ bans affect all state, public, private, incorporated and unincorporated lands.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Eagle County Sheriff James Van Beek ordered the bans with the support of fire chiefs in the two counties.

In a statement, DiSalvo said, “Although we typically use data to guide us in making these decisions, these current restrictions are being enacted in response to the possibility of diminished law, fire and EMS resources due to the COVID-19 state of emergency.”

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A spokeswoman for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday the same Stage 1 ban will be enacted there. The Sheriff’s Office was working on a notice as of press time.

Scott Thompson, fire chief for Roaring Fork Fire Rescue, applauded the sheriffs’ action.

“It’s about keeping our firefighters healthy and safe,” Thompson said.

Firefighters and other first responders are at risk of catching and spreading the coronavirus every time an incident requires them to gather in large numbers, he said. The agencies cannot afford to have their ranks decreased at a time when demand for services is spiking. Some of the firefighters also are emergency medical technicians that respond by ambulance to medical calls.

“We’re really getting impacted by medical calls,” Thompson said, estimating there are one or two calls daily for coronavirus-related cases.

The fire bans come on the heels of two wildfires in the midvalley on Wednesday (see related story). Roaring Fork Fire Rescue sent 15 firefighters to a wildland fire near Shield-O-Mesa off Snowmass Creek Road in the afternoon — creating the type of gathering that Thompson wants to avoid.

While there is still ample snow in the high country and even lower, north-facing slopes, dead vegetation has dried out in the valley floor and on south-facing slopes.

“They’re very dry and with the wind, people need to be really careful,” Thompson said.

The fire ban applies to the following persons and activities:

Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire or campfire except within a developed recreation site, or improved site to include a fire ring/pit.

Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle, or building, at a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area of at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material.

Operating or using an internal or external combustion engine without an approved spark-arresting device properly installed, maintained, and in effective working order meeting either the U.S. Forest Service Standards or appropriate Society of Automotive Engineers recommended practices.

Use of any personal fireworks or explosive requiring fuses or blasting caps, including exploding targets, as defined by Colorado Revised Statute 12-28-101 (8).

Exemptions will be made for anyone with a written permit from the sheriffs or the fire district where a fire is sought.

Also, uses still allowed include a liquid fuel or gas fuel stove, fireplaces within buildings, charcoal grill fires at private residences and fires located within permanent fire pits or fire grates.

The Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service announced Tuesday that fires are prohibited until further notice on national forest lands in Colorado. The Bureau of Land Management hasn’t announced fire restrictions.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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