Drought Watch: Preventing fires while enjoying our national forest
June 23, 2013
Editor's note: This is the third in a multi-part series submitted by local forest and fire experts addressing the impact of the drought on wildfire, water supply, recreation and Summit County's forests. The series appears on Fridays in the Daily.
Dry conditions in our local forests and wildlands can create conditions ripe for wildfire. Forests of dead lodgepole pine trees combined with the past few years of dryer-than-normal seasons can make our forests very susceptible to fire.
Remembering a few simple precautions can help diminish the possibility of a wildfire. What can you do? Here are some ideas:
• When smoking is permitted outdoors, be sure to have at least a three-foot clearing around the smoker. Grind out your cigarette, cigar or pipe tobacco in the dirt; never grind it on a stump or log. It is unsafe to smoke while walking, riding a bicycle or horse. Use your ashtray in your car or at your campsite. Never discard cigarettes, matches or other smoking material from vehicles.
• Do not use fireworks in the forest; it is illegal to possess or use any kind of fireworks on National Forest lands.
• All internal and external combustion engines must be equipped with a spark arrestor. These engines include chain saws, portable generators, ATVs and motorcycles. To make sure the spark arrestor is functioning properly, check with the dealer or contact your local Forest Service office for help.
Many of us enjoy picnicking and camping in the forest and on National Forest lands. Wildfires often start from campfires. Fire restrictions can be implemented in very dry years. Before building a fire on National Forest, state or county lands, be sure to contact the local ranger station or state or county officials for information on current fire restrictions or bans.
Here are some steps you can follow to help prevent wildfires while camping or picnicking in the forest:
• Take care when using and fueling lanterns, stoves and heaters. Ensure they are cool before refueling, avoid spilling flammable liquids and store fuel away from appliances.
• Use caution when cooking on an open flame or grill anywhere; even in your backyard.
• Use a camp stove instead of a campfire when possible.
• If using a campfire, build it away from overhanging branches, steep slopes, rotten stumps, logs, dry grass and leaves. Clear a five-foot area around the pit, remove burnable debris down to the soil and keep anything combustible, including extra wood, well away from the fire.
• Keep a shovel and bucket of water nearby.
• Keep the campfire small. A good bed of coals or a small fire surrounded by rocks gives plenty of heat.
• When you leave, make sure the fire is completely out. Drown the fire with water and stir with a shovel or stick. Repeat until the area is cold to the touch. Don't bury coals; they can smolder and break out.
• Never leave a campfire unattended, not even for a minute! Even a small breeze can cause the fire to spread.
• Campfires should be at least 100 feet (35 adult paces) from lakes, streams and trails. Campfires are not allowed above tree line or at lakes in wilderness areas.
If you are in the forest and see smoke or flames, return immediately to a safe area. Call 911 with the location of the area of concern.
The emergency operator will call the proper response team. Don't be concerned about calling in a false alarm — if you suspect a fire, please call it in!
Jan Cutts is the district ranger for the Dillon Ranger District, which is based in Silverthorne.
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