The grass is green and the spring melt is not yet finished, but that didn’t stop three small fires from igniting Monday, June 30, along Heeney Road 30.
Firefighters from Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, assisted by crews from Copper Mountain Fire and Red, White and Blue Fire responded to the three blazes, which were called in shortly before 3 p.m. Although an official cause could not be determined, officials said the fires appeared to be related and may have been sparked by a faulty vehicle or mechanical activity. Each was limited to less than an acre.
“The grasses are still fairly green down there and that helped keep the fires small, but we know that as we reach the hot days of summer the risk increases,” said Lake Dillon Fire deputy chief Jeff Berino in a news release.
With the Fourth of July just ahead, Steve Lipsher, public information officer for Lake Dillon Fire, said officials are asking locals and visitors to practice situational awareness during the holiday weekend. That means paying attention to your surroundings and being aware of a variety of obvious and not-so-obvious factors that can spark a wildfire.
Under the right conditions, it’s not uncommon for a devastating wildfire to be ignited by a vehicle dragging trailer chains, a vehicle riding on its rims, a still-lit cigarette tossed out of a car window, a chain saw lacking an approved spark arrestor or a homeowner refueling a still-hot lawn mower, Lipsher said. Backfiring ATVs that haven’t been serviced and off-road vehicles parked in tall grass also have ignited wildfires.
“Basic vehicle maintenance, or basic maintenance of any mechanized equipment, can go a long way in preventing wildfires,” Lipsher said. “Off-roaders also have to be careful about where they park because those catalytic converters are hot enough to light vegetation and the first thing that is going to burn is that person’s car.”
Being more judicious about the less common causes of wildfires doesn’t mean people can relax about the more primary contributors, including fireworks and campfires.
Never leave a campfire unattended, not even for a minute, Lipsher said, and always keep a way to extinguish the fire close at hand.
“I can’t tell you how many times we and local police agencies get called out to an unattended campfire,” Lipsher said. “It happens all of the time and usually for the same reasons — people were just taking their dog for a walk or going on a really short hike.”
Leaving a campfire unattended is not only irresponsible but also illegal, Lipsher said, and violators in Colorado can be cited with a fine.
If planning to leave a campfire, Lipsher said, people should douse it, stir the coals and douse it again until the coals are cool to the touch.
“That means literally putting your hands in the coals to make sure they are not hot to the touch,” Lipsher said.
Additionally, it’s the public’s responsibility to know the dangers and the laws about fireworks. In Summit County, the law is pretty simple — if it flies or explodes it’s illegal, and local law enforcement agencies will be vigorous in their pursuit of violators, the release stated. Fireworks of any type also are forbidden in the national forests.