Fire districts urge compliance with fire restrictions ahead of holiday weekend
FRISCO — The second wildfire season has arrived in Summit County, and with an influx of visitors expected over the holiday weekend, officials with the county’s fire districts are urging residents and visitors to use caution.
“The very reasons that people want to come up to Summit County — our beautiful mountains, our wonderful woods, our wildlife and all the experiences we have — we want to preserve and protect those,” Summit Fire and EMS spokesman Steve Lipsher said. “We don’t want to jeopardize those because of carelessness or lack of awareness of what the actual wildfire danger is and how devastating a fire could be to a community like ours.”
Despite a healthy amount of snow and rainfall throughout the spring and summer, conditions have worsened considerably in recent weeks. While the fire danger was considered low earlier this month, officials ratcheted the danger level up to very high this week citing high winds and a rapid decrease of moisture in the area’s timber and grass fuel groups.
Officials also noted that heavy spring precipitation serves as kind of a doubled-edged sword in the area, helping to keep the potential for wildfires at bay during summer but creating substantial fuel sources as grasses and foliage, which saw significant growth throughout summer, begin to dry out in the fall.
This time of year, the combination of wind and frost can lead to a dangerous amount of fuel.
“Anybody who was here noticed how strong the winds were in the area on Saturday, and even more so on Sunday where the temperatures were quite a bit warmer and that contributed to the dying of the grasses,” Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District Chief Jim Keating said. “And the frost is basically killing the top of the grasses. It’s only going to take a few days for things to dry out and become brittle. It’s the same with the underbrush and debris in the timber. It’s all very dry at this time, and it doesn’t take a whole lot other than a single spark to start a situation.”
To help combat the problem, the Summit Board of County Commissioners and the Dillon Ranger District of the White River National Forest enacted Stage 1 fire restrictions last week. The restrictions broadly cover a number of topics, including a ban on fireworks and guidelines for smokers. The restrictions also cover the use of campfires.
The Stage 1 fire restrictions for Summit County and the U.S. Forest Service can be found at the bottom of this story.
In short, fires are allowed on private property as long as they are contained within a commercially manufactured outdoor fireplace and equipped with a protective screen, and campfires are allowed within designated permanent metal fire rings on U.S. Forest Service land. But backcountry campfires are not allowed, and officials are asking guests to respect the restrictions after responding to a number of illegal fires over the past week.
In addition to increasing the potential for a human caused fire, officials also said reports of backcountry smoke sightings from illegal campfires create a strain on the fire districts that often have to resort to using ATVs or hiking into heavily wooded areas to respond.
“We have had a few calls where people are not in designated camping areas but are just going up into the mountains to spend a few days and light a campfire,” Keating said. “Even if you’re up here and doing it like you’re supposed to, a spark overnight could start a really bad situation. We know people want to go to an isolated area and get away from everyone else when they camp, but to protect our forest, they’re going to have to respect the restrictions and stay in a designated area for their safety and the safety of others.”
Aside from a few illegal fires, typically from visitors uninformed about the prohibition, the fire districts largely lauded community members for adhering to the fire restrictions. But with fire departments on high alert, it’s important to stay vigilant and smart.
“People are pretty understanding that we don’t support fire restrictions just because we’re being authoritarian,” Lipsher said. “But we recognize that even a constantly monitored campfire under these conditions could spew out sparks that could start a wildfire. As a result, when we support the county commissioners in imposing fire restrictions, it’s based on what we know is the best way to prevent a catastrophe from happening.”
Summit County Stage 1 Fire Restrictions
U.S. Forest Service Stage 1 Fire Restrictions
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