Summit County downgrades fire restrictions to Stage 1 from Stage 2 amid improving fire conditions
Reflecting improving fuel conditions from lower temperatures and a decent amount of rain recently, Summit County’s Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to downgrade fire restrictions on unincorporated county land from Stage 2 to Stage 1, effective immediately.
While fireworks and open fires are still banned, fires will now be allowed in built-up fire pits and grates in developed areas or established campgrounds. The town of Breckenridge followed the county and went to Stage 1 later that same day, while the Dillon Ranger District and the towns of Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne are expected to follow suit within the next week.
The board voted to lower restrictions after Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons made the recommendation at the regular morning work session. FitzSimons said he had just gotten off a weekly wildfire status conference call with regional fire chiefs, forest officials and fellow law enforcement. FitzSimons said there was a firm, unanimous consensus that conditions had improved to the point that the county can stand down from Stage 2.
“This wasn’t something we were indecisive on,” FitzSimons told the commissioners. “We are all in solid agreement that it’s proper to go back to Stage 1.”
Unlike Stage 2, Stage 1 restrictions allows fires in constructed, permanent fire pits or grates on certain developed campgrounds listed in the restrictions. Liquid-fueled fires and stoves are also still allowed, as are indoor fireplaces, chimineas, charcoal grills and charcoal fire pits on private property.
However, property owners who use charcoal fire pits are required to constantly supervise the pit, have adequate suppression equipment at the ready, and must notify the local fire department and sheriff’s office of the use of the fire pit. Summit Fire & EMS Chief Jeff Berino said that wood fire pits are still banned, as they throw off embers that can start a fire.
Stage 1 restrictions still ban open fires, which are defined as any outdoor fire such as campfires, warming fires, bonfires or prescribed burns. The use and sale of fireworks are also still banned and smoking outdoors is still banned unless in an enclosed area, approved developed land or an adequate distance from undeveloped areas.
FitzSimons said that Scott Fizwilliams, U.S. Forest Service supervisor for the White River National Forest, declared his intention to eventually downgrade fire restrictions from Stage 2 to Stage 1 in the Dillon Ranger District, which fits within the borders of Summit County, with restrictions remaining at Stage 2 for the rest of the forest.
The move to district-centric restrictions is part of a new Forest Service strategy to implement different restrictions in parts of the national forests to make Forest Service rules consistent with local regulations, as opposed to the previous system implementing a uniform ban in all parts of the forest at all times.
Dillon deputy ranger Adam Bianchi said that the Dillon district restriction should be downgraded some time Wednesday, but Stage 2 remains in effect until then. Sheriff FitzSimons said that changing Forest Service restrictions is a bit like “turning around a battleship in a bathtub” due to the amount of work required for the shift, including replacing signage at every trailhead. It is important to note that unlike with the county rules, charcoal grills or barbeques are still banned everywhere in the national forest.
Additionally, FitzSimons recommended county manager Scott Vargo lift the administrative closure of the public shooting range at the SCRAP landfill, which was put into effect at the same time as the Stage 2 restrictions back on July 3. Vargo approved opening the range later Tuesday morning.
“We’re getting calls every night about people hearing gunshots in the forest,” FitzSimons said. “Hunting season is also coming up soon, and we’d rather have people practicing and shooting at the range than out in the forest.”
FitzSimons made sure to note that restrictions may go back up to Stage 2 later this season, as September and October have traditionally been the busier wildfire season. However, Summit residents and visitors can get some much-missed midsummer night warmth as long as they follow regulations and stay safe.
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