Fire officials preaching caution with campfires
VAIL — It would be really hard to spark a wildfire anywhere near Vail Mountain or Beaver Creek right now. Still, unattended campfires will always draw attention.
A U.S. Forest Service fire crew was recently dispatched to investigate an unattended campfire in the Booth Creek area above East Vail.
District Ranger Aaron Mayville said the fire appeared to be at a “squatter camp” in the area.
The fire was quickly put out. But, Mayville said, people illegally living in national forests can be a problem, especially as terrain starts to dry out.
Illegal camping can be a particular problem, Mayville said, since if a fire starts at one of those camp sites, those staying there are likely to leave an area without reporting trouble.
Getting ready for fire season
Beyond illegal camping, though, officials in Eagle County are preparing for the coming wildfire season.
The National Interagency Fire Center’s Predictive Services department is calling for “normal” wildfire potential in the Rocky Mountain region. That’s an improvement from 2018, when a combination of lingering drought and human error sparked a number of large wildfires in the region.
The unattended campfire near Vail is the only one reported in the area so far this year.
“I think the (2018) Lake Christine Fire (near Basalt) is still on people’s minds,” said Tracy LeClair, the public information officer for the Eagle River Fire Protection District.
In fact, LeClair said the department has received calls reporting neighbors for backyard fires. Many of those fires are just fine, although some aren’t.
“We’re still working on that education piece,” LeClair said. “If people have recreational fires, they need to make sure they’re the proper size, and they’re not burning pallets or other things they shouldn’t.”
Paul Cada, the wildfire specialist for the Vail Fire Department, noted that it’s still early, but camping season has started.
Unattended campfires “are a habitual problem,” Cada said. For those camping any time of year, Cada noted that, “If you’re going to have a fire in the woods, it’s your responsibility to put it out.”
And, he added, “attended” means that someone is next to the fire at all times.
With the spring snowmelt well begun, area fire officials along the upper Colorado River have already started meeting, in large part to talk about consistent messaging. That’s going to be important if and when a dry spell strikes and fire restrictions are imposed.
‘Lulled into complacency’
In Eagle County, consistency about fire restrictions can be tricky, due to the diversity of terrain.
While the high mountains may have snow cover, much of the county is high desert terrain that burns more easily than high-elevation areas.
And, Cada added, the grasses popping up now could be dangerous later.
“If we get a dry spell, and we typically do, there’s a lot more fuel for a fire,” Cada said. “We don’t want to be lulled into complacency because we’re having a wet spring.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2930.
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