Countywide fire ban in place |

Countywide fire ban in place

Jane Stebbins

SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County Commissioners enacted a fire ban for the entire county Wednesday afternoon, the earliest they’ve had to put such restrictions into place in recent memory.

“Park County is burning, the town of Bailey’s been evacuated, and they’re on the other side of the hill,” said County Commissioner Bill Wallace. “The snow is gone, people are beginning to squat, they’re throwing cigarette butts out their car windows; the county is extremely, extremely dry. It could happen here. By not having a ban declared, we don’t want people to think Summit County is not in the same condition as the rest of the state, because we are.”

Signs on the interstate already indicate fire danger is “extremely high,” the highest warning category.

A wildfire near Bailey was reported to be about 40 percent contained Tuesday night, but high winds whipped the conflagration back up. By Wednesday afternoon, it had consumed 1,200 acres, jumped U.S. Highway 285 and was zero percent contained as of late yesterday afternoon. Gov. Bill Owens requested federal assistance, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized federal money to help firefighting efforts. It is the first to be designed under the Federal Fire Management Assistance Program.

Under the terms of the countywide fire ban, which commissioners put in place during an emergency meeting Wednesday, open fires, fireworks, slash fires and weed and grass torching are prohibited.

Allowed are personal charcoal or propane barbecues, and fires in permanent pits on personal property and in designated fire rings in improved campgrounds. The U.S. Forest Service campgrounds are not scheduled to open until closer to Memorial Day.

In a resolution passed during the emergency meeting, commissioners decided “there exists the imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury or loss of life or property that requires emergency action to avert it … A fire danger emergency exists within Summit County.”

Dry conditions are being blamed on low snowfall this winter and high winds that whipped across the state recently.

“The problem is that a little bit of moisture is not going to help at all,” Wallace said. “The wind we’ve had the past few days, it’s really dried out.”

The Forest Service doesn’t have a fire ban in place, but allows campfires only in established fire rings in Forest Service campgrounds. Those include Pine Cove, Peak One, Heaton Bay, Prospector, Windy Point, Lowery, Blue River, Prairie Point, McDonald Flats and Cataract campgrounds.

“We’re continually evaluating whether we need a fire ban in place,” said U.S. Forest Service Ranger Jamie Connell. “It’s dry. People need to take every precaution to prevent accidental fires from starting.”

Firefighters already have been activated from the White River National Forest, but none have left Summit County – yet.

“My engine is still here,” Connell said. “I would expect we’ll be sharing resources around the country. That’s why it’s extra important to make sure we’re more careful. Most years, I don’t find myself watching the Weather Channel, but this year, I’m checking it every day. And it’s only April.”

The ban will stay in place until commissioners decide to lift it.

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