Some campers are ignoring fire ban | AspenTimes.com

Some campers are ignoring fire ban

Some people are ignoring a fire ban in national forests around Aspen even though Colorado is suffering through one of its worst drought and wildfire seasons ever.

“Within the campgrounds we’re getting pretty good compliance,” said Jim Upchurch, Aspen District ranger for the U.S. Forest Service. “We’re continually having trouble in the backcountry.”

Wilderness rangers have observed fire pits that have been recently constructed or campfire ashes and debris that are still warm in the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness, Upchurch said. Some of the problems are around Crater Lake, where fires are never allowed because of heavy use and the fragile environment.

Fires were banned throughout the 2.3 million-acre White River National Forest on June 13. It was one of the few times that the Forest Service banned fires even within fire pits and grates at its campgrounds. Charcoal grill use is also banned.

The penalty for violations is stiff. Those convicted can face a fine of $5,000, be sentenced to six months in jail or both.

Upchurch said Forest Service personnel will not give warnings. They will summons violators directly to federal court in Grand Junction.

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But the Forest Service’s big push is to prevent people from lighting fires rather than punishing them after the fact.

“We’re still trying to get the message out,” said Upchurch.

He said it is hard to believe campers would be unaware of the fire ban given the national publicity of five major wildfires in Colorado last month, including the Coal Seam fire that destroyed 29 residences in and around West Glenwood Springs.

“I think with the people in the backcountry, it’s people disregarding the rules,” said Upchurch.

Officials are also reporting problems in the national forest around Vail. The Dillon area isn’t witnessing as many violations, said Upchurch.

In the Aspen District, the Forest Service will try to send more rangers on patrol through the evening to ensure the fire ban is followed. Campers who see other campers building a fire should inform them about the ban but avoid confrontation, Upchurch said. He urged getting as much descriptive information as possible about violators and passing that on to Forest Service personnel as soon as possible.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.]