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Sheriff bans open fires

Jeremy Heiman

Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis has imposed a ban on all open fires within the county, due to the current severe danger of wildfire.

Restrictions on burning, explosives, fireworks, smoking, chain-saw use and welding will be in effect until further notice. Braudis announced the ban in a press conference yesterday morning.

The sheriff’s office enacted the ban, Braudis said, because vegetation has become so dry in many areas of the county that fires are quite likely. All vegetation, from grasses to the largest branches, have very low moisture content, he said.

Weather forecasts for the next few weeks indicate the dry weather will continue, said Cindy Mohat, Pitkin County public safety disaster coordinator.

Mike Chamberlain, a fire weather meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, agreed. A high-pressure ridge is expected to settle in over the Rockies by Sunday, bringing the hottest weather so far this summer, he said, and things will get drier yet.

“The potential right now is to have an active fire season,” Chamberlain said. But by early July, conditions could change.

The “monsoon season” in the Colorado mountains typically begins between about July 4 and July 10, Chamberlain said, bringing rains to the area.

The specifics of the Pitkin County fire ban include the following: Campfires and bonfires and the burning of trash, debris, ditches or fence rows are now prohibited. Exceptions are fires in permanent fire pits or grates located in established campgrounds, picnic areas or recreation sites. More exceptions include fires set under permit from the county or from a federal agency, fires in liquid or gas-fueled camping stoves, and barbecue grills at residences. Smoking is banned, except in an enclosed vehicle or building, or at developed recreation sites. Smokers may also light up outdoors while stopped in areas of at least three feet in diameter that are cleared of all flammable material. Operating a chain saw is prohibited unless it is equipped with a spark arrester, approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or other such agency, and properly installed and in working order. Anyone operating a chain saw must have an adequate fire extinguisher and a round-bladed shovel at hand. Welding or operating a cutting torch is prohibited except in an area that is cleared of all flammable materials for at least 10 feet on all sides of the equipment. The use of any fireworks or explosives requiring fuses or blasting caps is prohibited. Braudis noted that most fireworks are outlawed in the state anyway.

“If it goes `bang’ or leaves the ground, it’s illegal in Colorado,” he said. “I’d appeal to all grownups and youth to be very sensitive to the environment … and to overcome the urge to use fireworks.”

Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob noted that 33 other Colorado counties have already imposed bans on burning, and fires have threatened houses and lives in other parts of Colorado.

“The real risk is what you see on the Eastern Slope,” Grob said. “We’re to the point now where the fuels are so dehydrated a cigarette butt has the potential to ignite a wildfire.” A fire in Park County, southwest of Denver, has destroyed close to 40 homes since Monday. Crews yesterday continued to battle a second blaze outside Loveland.

Most houses in unincorporated Pitkin County are in or on the edge of grassland or wooded areas where they could be threatened by fire, Braudis said.

“This is something we really worry about here – a fire ripping through some subdivision,” he said.

Braudis noted there have been two wildfires in the Carbondale Fire District in recent weeks. Both were sparked by lightning and were threatening enough that officials called in aircraft to help fight them.

Under Colorado law, county governments have the responsibility of fire control, but Pitkin County, like most rural counties, has no firefighting agency. Instead, Pitkin County has mutual aid agreements with the four fire protection districts in the county, as well as federal and state agencies in the area. The county must coordinate fire-suppression efforts, Braudis said.


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