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Fire bans

by Bob Berwyn
Responsible backpackers enjoy a controlled campfire. Always know the fire resrtictions before heading out into the woods.
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The most widespread threat to human safety during Summit County summers is wildfire. With neighborhoods that sprawl into the fringes of beetle-killed forests and sagebrush meadows, the risk is real. It’s hard to comprehend how fast and deadly a wildfire can be, but firefighters use the 1989 Black Tiger fire, near Boulder, as a yardstick. Within six hours of ignition, the Black Tiger fire destroyed 44 houses, causing an estimated $10 million in property and resource damages.

The biggest concern for residents and visitors in Summit County is a human-caused fire that, under the right conditions, could be just as destructive as the 1989 blaze. To assess the hazard, local officials monitor wind, weather and the moisture content of potential fuels. Based on that information, they decide whether or not to allow fires in the backcountry and in Forest Service campgrounds.

Common sense suggests that fires are not a good idea on hot, dry and windy days. If those conditions prevail for a few weeks, the Forest Service intervenes. Local fire departments and county commissioners also often decide to implement fire restrictions. Those can include a complete ban on outdoor burning, or a lesser level of restrictions, depending on risk. Often, fires are allowed in the controlled setting of a campground fire pit but not in the backcountry, where access for firefighters is difficult and where a small fire could grow into a dangerous blaze, which could threaten local towns.

Besides campfires and careless hikers, burning piles of dead wood and branches also poses a risk to neighborhoods, so it’s important to find out about any fire restrictions before torching a pile of slash in the backyard. ≈

It’s hard enough keeping track of your kids and all of your camping gear when you’re on vacation ” but it’s also your responsibility to know if fire restrictions are in effect.

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to find out. For one thing, signs along Interstate 70, local highways and campground entrances often include information on fire danger, so keep your eyes open. It’s also worth picking up a copy of the local paper, the Summit Daily News, for updated fire information.

On the web, the Colorado State Fire Chiefs’ Association maintains a statewide clearinghouse for information on fire restrictions at http://www.coloradofirechiefs.org/wildfire/wildfire.htm.

In Summit County, stop by the Forest Service visitor center in Silverthorne at 680 Blue River Parkway (Highway 9) for the latest information, or give the agency a call at

(970) 468-5400. Even when the offices are closed, the recorded message usually includes fire information. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office also can provide detailed information on fire restrictions and bans at (970) 453-2232. ≈


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