Fire restrictions will be implemented Friday in national forest around Aspen as threat grows | AspenTimes.com

Fire restrictions will be implemented Friday in national forest around Aspen as threat grows

Fire restrictions will go into effect Friday on the 2.3 million-acre White River National Forest, which includes the Aspen area.

Campfires at dispersed sites outside of official campgrounds will be banned. Campfires in metal fire grates within formal campgrounds still are allowed.

The moisture content in vegetation changed so drastically between last week and this week that the Forest Service decided it must enact stage 1 fire restrictions, said Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. The decision was made "an hour or two" before the Buffalo Mountain Fire broke out Tuesday in Summit County about 2 miles west of Silverthorne, he said.

However, that fire, almost entirely in the White River National Forest, reinforced the decision, according to Fitzwilliams.

He noted that the Forest Service and partners undertook a vegetation management project in phases between 2010 and 2014 to thin timber on about 350 acres of national forest adjacent to subdivisions next to Buffalo Mountain. The project created a buffer of about 200 to 250 feet around the houses.

"We would have lost a lot of homes if not for that," Fitzwilliams said. He stressed that he heard that from numerous firefighters who have been in the field.

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He said he understands wariness of residents to see timber cuts, but the projects such as the one in Summit County play a critical role in safety.

"It was textbook, the way it worked," he said.

Fire officials have evacuated residents of an estimated 1,384 homes in Summit County. As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire had been limited to 91 acres but there was no containment.

The fire is burning at elevations ranging from 9,200 to 9,600 feet, indicating how dry it is throughout the White River National Forest, Fitzwilliams said.

"That's another one of the wake-up calls," he said.

No wildfires have broke out yet in the Aspen area.

The Bureau of Land Management also will implement stage 1 fire restrictions Friday on lands it administers in Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties. Stage 1 restrictions are already in place in all lands in Mesa and Garfield counties and on unincorporated and private lands in Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties.

The Forest Service is focused on spreading the word — a daunting task because there are so many trailheads and day-use areas.

"We have armies of seasonal workers going around (to the various portals) posting signs," Fitzwilliams said. He has authorized overtime for the work to continue into the weekend.

"With social media it goes pretty quickly these days," he said of the awareness.

Anyone who ignores the restrictions is subject to a $250 fine, possibly more if their actions result in a fire.

Fitzwilliams said campfires are allowed at established campgrounds because the metal grates are in place, more people tend to be around to react in case a fire flares up and many campgrounds have hosts who monitor what's going on.

According to the Forest Service, here's what stage 1 fire restrictions mean:

Campfires are only allowed within designated fire grates in developed campgrounds (i.e., a metal, in-ground containment structure — fire pans and rock campfire rings are not acceptable).

No fires of any type, including charcoal, outside of developed areas.

No smoking except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or in a barren area free of vegetation.

No use of explosive materials, including explosive targets.

No welding or operation of acetylene or other similar torch with open flame except from an area that has been cleared of vegetation.

No operation of any internal combustion engine without a spark-arresting device properly installed and in working order.

Fireworks are always prohibited on BLM, National Forest and National Park Service lands.

The stage 1 fire restrictions will be in place indefinitely. The Forest Service took the nearly unprecedented step of enacting stage 3 restrictions in the San Juan National Forest in the southwest corner of Colorado due to the 416 wildfire and dry conditions. That restriction essential closes the forest to public use.

scondon@aspentimes.com