Pitkin County beefs up fire preparation | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County beefs up fire preparation

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners voted 3-0 Tuesday to enact an emergency ordinance specifically banning the use of fireworks given the extreme wildfire danger in the county and throughout the state. Then they agreed to allocate $125,000 that the Sheriff’s Office can tap immediately if it needs to fight a wildfire.

Both actions came as emergency officials continue to prepare for fire and do what they can to prevent it.

Commissioners also agreed to put $10,000 toward ongoing outreach efforts to make the public aware of the fire danger and the need to use caution. The county is already blanketed with signs, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said. Commissioner Rob Ittner urged the posting of signs at trailheads that stress “no smoking” in the backcountry.

The emergency ordinance was drafted after officials discovered the county’s fire ban excluded fireworks. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, however, has issued an executive order declaring a statewide ban on open burning and the use of fireworks and ordering county sheriffs to enforce the ban.

In Pitkin County, there was no law to back the state ban on fireworks, commissioners were told.

“It was apparent to us, for obvious reasons, to get something in place that would back up that executive order,” said Carrington Brown, the county’s code enforcement officer.

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The emergency ordinance establishes a $500 fine for the sale, use or possession of fireworks. It will remain in effect for 180 days unless the sheriff rescinds it in consultation with commissioners.

The firefighting funds, to come from the county’s contingency fund, are the estimated cost of attacking a wildfire during the first 24 hours – the most crucial span in which to contain a blaze, said County Manager Jon Peacock. During that period, a wildfire on nonpublic lands must be fought with primarily local resources.

The time to appropriate funds is not after the fire starts, he said.

“What we wanted to make sure of is that there was no hesitation … to make the call and get the resources on the ground,” he said.

The intention is to spend the funds in the event of a wildfire emergency, but some small portion may go to fuel for local pilots who help patrol the county from the air, DiSalvo said.

A storm last week produced an estimated 600 lightning strikes in the county in a 12-hour period, he said, and members of Aspen Air Rescue helped check for fires afterward.

“We may start to do that on a regular basis,” DiSalvo said.

Commissioners informally OK’d the allocation Tuesday; it will come back to them for formal approval.

janet@aspentimes.com