Pitkin County moves to Stage 2 restrictions

The Forest Service is trying to make it abundantly clear with signs at Difficult Campground east of Aspen and other facilities that fire restrictions are in place.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

With the threat of area wildfires magnified by dry weather, gusting winds and huge blazes on the Front Range, Pitkin County implemented Stage 2 fire restrictions Friday.

“We must keep fire out of Pitkin County,” Sheriff Joe DiSalvo declared in a noon press release Friday. “We continue to see an unprecedented lack of moisture and dangerously dry fuels in Pitkin County. Although we anticipate snow and rain later this weekend, we must do everything we can to keep wildfire from starting in our backyard.”

Stage 2 restrictions means no campfires of any kind — not even in metal fire rings in developed campgrounds — and no charcoal barbecue grills. Also, the restrictions ban smoking outside in the open.

However, Aspen’s downtown core is not included in that smoking restriction, said Aspen Assistant Fire Chief Parker Lathrop, though he encouraged smokers to be careful and dispose of smoking material properly.

Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine said the summer influx of college student-firefighters are gone and he has crews at the Cameron Peak Fire and the East Troublesome Fire, so the move to stronger restrictions will lessen the chance of fire breaking out around here.

“Resources are stretched throughout the state,” he said.

The National Weather Service on Friday issued a winter storm watch effective Sunday morning through Monday afternoon warning that heavy snow is possible in Aspen, Snowmass, Vail, Crested Butte and Marble. The alert predicts 8 to 14 inches and possibly more in higher elevations by Monday evening.

“Travel could be very difficult, especially over mountain passes,” according to the alert.

The weather system on the way also will be packing “quite a bit of cold air,” said Dan Cuevas with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. The agency’s forecast says temperatures “are still looking to plummet behind the front, with lows on Monday in the teens.”

“As a result, a season-ending freeze is expected for the remaining susceptible valleys,” the forecast states.

Still, DiSalvo pointed out the weather service “is not predicting this weekend’s precipitation to be a wildfire-ending event.”

Friday’s red-flag warning for wind is not expected to repeat Saturday, Cuevas said.