Avoiding disaster: How to mitigate the risk of wildfires in Summit County
Stage 2 fire restrictions are in effect, meaning no campfires or fireworks
Countless guests visit Summit County every year to explore the mountains, have adventures in the backcountry and escape the bustle of city life in favor of camping under the stars.
But as heat from the summer sun beats down on the forests throughout the county, guests also need to be aware of and help to mitigate the risks of the biggest natural threat facing mountain communities: wildfire.
“The reason that we are here, and the reason our visitors come here, is because of our lovely mountains and natural places, including our forests,” Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher said. “We’ve seen far too many communities throughout the West that have been devastated by wildfire, and we want to preserve every reason why we’re all here in the first place. The way we do that is by minimizing our most prominent existential threat, and that is wildfire.
“So we ask everybody, locals and visitors alike, to be wildfire aware and to understand that our forests here in the arid West are prone to wildfire. We don’t need to have lapses in care occur. Even a momentary oversight can result in a catastrophic wildfire.”
The 2020 wildfire season was among the most destructive ever in the state, with the three largest wildfires in Colorado history all taking place last year. Luckily, there are some easy steps that Summit County visitors and residents can take to help keep the danger at bay.
First and foremost, backcountry users should practice safe campfire techniques. Under the current Stage 2 fire restrictions, campfires are not allowed, but when campfires are permitted, campers should always make sure that they are building their fire in a safe space without any nearby vegetation and that the flames stay at a manageable size. Campers should never leave a fire unattended and should always ensure that it’s completely out before taking off.
“We really want to drive home how important that is and how frequently campfires break out of their little fire rings, go further and potentially start bigger fires,” Lipsher said. “When you’re done with your campfire, extinguish it fully. The practice there is to douse it with water, stir the ashes, and douse them again until they are literally cool to the touch. When you stick your hand in the pile of ashes, you should not feel any heat whatsoever.”
Guests can get a sense of the current conditions through fire danger signs and variable message boards scattered throughout the community or by checking out the Summit Daily News, which publishes the fire danger daily on Page 2. Fire restrictions are frequently put in place during the summer and fall, and information on what is or isn’t allowed is easily accessible on the websites for Summit County government, Summit Fire & EMS, and the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District.
While it’s impossible for even experts to accurately forecast what the wildfire season will bring, officials say they’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. But it is incumbent on every resident and visitor to do their part to make sure lives, property and the beautiful environment aren’t endangered unnecessarily by a human-caused wildfire.
“A fire can start anywhere at any time, and depending on the conditions of the day — if it gets up in the 70s or 80s and we have wind — we could have disastrous results,” Red, White & Blue Chief Jim Keating said. “We’re living in a world right now assuming this is going to be a really bad season. That comes from the memory of what happened last year.
“We’re asking people to take every caution they can. We’d really like to be able to have a really safe summer.”
Campfires are prohibited under Stage 2 fire restrictions.
Know the rules about fireworks
Under Stage 2 fire restrictions, all fireworks are prohibited. Purchasing fireworks in another state and transporting them to Colorado is illegal.
Park in designated areas
Something as simple as a hot exhaust pipe on dry grass can start a wildfire.
• Don’t drive your vehicle, including ATVs, onto dry grass or brush
• Secure chains to avoid throwing sparks
• Ensure ATVs have spark arresters, which are required by law
Be cautious with cigarette butts
Cigarette butts thrown from car windows can start wildfires. Plus, it’s illegal.
• Ensure the cigarette is fully extinguished
• Dispose of cigarette butts only in designated areas
• Stage 2 fire restrictions prohibit smoking outdoors
Know the current fire restrictions
Fire restrictions dictate whether you can have a campfire and even where you can smoke. Not sure what’s allowed in your area? Call the local fire protection district to ask.
• Summit Fire & EMS: 970-262-5100
• Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District in Breckenridge: 970-276-3511
• U.S. Forest Service Dillon Ranger District: 970-468-5400
This story previously published in the summer edition of Explore Breckenridge & Summit County magazine.
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