Officials again press fire danger message | AspenTimes.com

Officials again press fire danger message

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Fire and emergency services officials in the valley are imploring residents and visitors to comply with bans on open fires and fireworks.

They’re also prepared to evacuate entire neighborhoods should a wildfire threaten Pitkin County.

With extremely dry conditions persisting, officials are reminding the public that a single spark from a campfire or sparkler can easily ignite a blaze. A violation of the ban comes with hefty fines, from $750 on the municipal and county level to a $5,000 fine and the possibility of jail time for a federal conviction.

“The conditions are unprecedented – we’re really in uncharted territory as far as danger goes in our state,” said Ron Leach, chief of the Carbondale Fire Department. “The fact of the matter is there have been no large fires in Pitkin County this summer. But the weather forecast in the next two weeks is for hot, dry and windy conditions. Put all those in a petri dish and mix them up and you have extreme fire danger.”

At a gathering of officials Monday at the Pitkin County Courthouse, the message was clear: The local threat of wildfires is very real.

“People must take what we’re preaching seriously – no fireworks and no open fires,” said Scott Thompson, Basalt fire chief.

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County officials will be actively investigating the use of anything that makes smoke or sparks, said Tom Grady, incident public information officer for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

Leach said during the long Independence Day weekend, additional patrols will be held in areas such as the Crystal River Valley and the Lincoln Creek Road area, where bonfires are traditionally popular.

In Aspen, Police Chief Loren Ryerson said police are being vigilant about warning people not to flick cigarette butts outside, but to smoke indoors, in cars or in a three-foot area that is virtually barren. He also said residents should write down license plate numbers for careless cigarette butt tossers so the police can educate the smoker in question.

And officials added another word of caution: Residents should be prepared to evacuate their homes if a wildfire does threaten Pitkin County. Several at the meeting said they already have boxes packed with important items that they could grab if they have to quickly evacuate.

Using a reverse 911 system, homes will be telephoned with a recorded message telling residents to evacuate. Residents called should also notify their neighbors to make sure an entire subdivision gets the message to leave.

Pitkin County’s emergency services coordinator, Cindy Mohat, said residents need to consider their pets when coming up with an emergency evacuation plan, since after an evacuation homeowners will not be able to return for pets.

According to Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, evacuation is mandatory, but if a resident refuses to leave the area, officials will not try to convince him or her to leave.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com.]