White River National Forest joins fire ban | AspenTimes.com

White River National Forest joins fire ban

ASPEN – The U.S. Forest Service took the relatively rare step Thursday of restricting fires in the 2.3-million acre White River National Forest, which surrounds Aspen and the other localities of the valley.

The restrictions won’t affect campers staying in established campgrounds with fire grates, said Bill Kight, spokesman for the forest supervisor’s office. But campers at dispersed car-camping sites in the backcountry and backpackers venturing into wilderness cannot start campfires, he said.

The drastic step was taken because the fire danger is extremely high, and the long-range forecast is for continued warm and dry conditions. The Forest Service wants to minimize the chances of human-caused fires. The Forest Service is starting a blitz to get the word out about the ban. Kight acknowledged some people already in the backcountry won’t be aware of the move immediately.

“In the next three weeks, we’ll have an army of people out putting up signs and making people aware,” Kight said.

Open fires are also banned in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties. Eagle County enacted the restrictions Wednesday; Garfield County joined on Thursday. Pitkin County’s ban was already in place.

Kight said records weren’t immediately available to show when the national forest last restricted fires. It is a rare but not unheard-of move.

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“I realize these restrictions will cause some inconveniences to forest users. But the conditions we are experiencing are severe,” Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said in a prepared statement. “The potential for large expensive wildfires is real. We need to take these steps to minimize the potential for human-caused fire.”

The fire restrictions in the forest and in unincorporated Garfield County won’t allow building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, coal or wood-burning stove, any type of charcoal-fueled broiler or open fire of any type.

The exceptions are fires in constructed, permanent fire pits or fire grates within developed Forest Service camp and picnic grounds or recreation sites, and petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns or heating devices that meet the fire underwriter’s specifications for safety. Fires that are maintained or attended within a device that has a spark arrestor or where the fire is fully enclosed within a screen at all times are allowed.

Smoking cigarettes is allowed only within an enclosed vehicle, building or developed recreation site.

Operating a chain saw is prohibited, except those with approved spark arrestors. The operator must have a shovel and fire extinguisher.

Welding or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame is prohibited.

Operating or using any internal-combustion engine without a spark-arresting device properly installed, maintained and in effective working order is prohibited.

Fireworks are not allowed at any time on any public lands administered by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or National Park Service.