Forest Service moves to Stage 2 fire ban Friday
Summit Daily News
With worsening fire conditions in the backcountry, and little moisture in the forecast, the White River National Forest is moving to a Stage 2 fire ban Friday, prohibiting all campfires, Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams announced Tuesday.
“Right now, our goal is to prevent and minimize human-caused wildfire,” Fitzwilliams said. “I do this with some hesitation, knowing it will impact people and be an inconvenience. But the conditions warrant this.”
It is an increase from the Stage 1 fire restrictions implemented last week. Summit County commissioners are also likely to implement a Stage 2 ban at a special meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Fireworks, as well as campfires and open burns of any kind, are now completely prohibited on all White River National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands. Exploding targets, welding, charcoal burning and the use of chainsaws without spark arresters are also prohibited. Smoking on Forest Service land is banned, except inside enclosed cars, buildings or tents.
Gas stoves are still allowed, but should be used with extreme caution.
The ban will not increase penalties for violators, but the Forest Service will have additional personnel out to educate, enforce and spot fires early.
“It’s really about initial attack, having people in the right places,” Fitzwilliams said. “That’s part of our goal, to be able to respond quickly.”
Additional signs will also be posted to inform the public of the heightened restrictions.
The Stage 2 fire ban is the second highest on a three-stage system. Moving to Stage 3 would mean completely closing the national forest except to permitted activity. It’s uncommon to see a Stage 3 ban, but not unprecedented.
The region would need to see a significant increase in moisture for the ban to be dropped back down to Stage 1, Fitzwilliams said.
The ban comes as fire danger in Summit County spiked to “extreme” Monday, the highest rating on a five-level scale.
Meanwhile, high temperatures are expected to break 80 degrees by Friday, and Summit County’s first shot at moisture is only the slight possibility of thunderstorms on Saturday.
Relative humidity levels in the White River National Forest region have dipped to 3-5 percent, well below the normal 20-25 percent humidity, Fitzwilliams said. Soil moisture is also exceptionally low, currently at 5-10 percent, compared to a normal 40-60 percent, according to data provided by the U.S. Forest Service.
“All those things are really aligning,” Fitzwilliams said. “Plus the fact that we’re not seeing a break in the weather, and the two-week forecast is more of the same.”
Humidity was 8 percent Tuesday afternoon, and Summit County remained under a red flag warning, indicating ideal weather conditions to feed an aggressive fire, until Tuesday night.
High temperatures are expected to climb to 72 today and 78 Thursday, with clear skies and overnight lows in the mid 40s, according to forecasts from the National Weather Service.
The fire danger in Summit County is currently extreme.
A shortage of snow this winter, along with continuing dry weather conditions and a forest severely impacted by the mountain pine beetle have significantly elevated the risk of a catastrophic wildfire in Summit County this summer. To help keep Summit County safe, please keep the following things in mind:
With a few exceptions, all open fires (campfires and bonfires included) as well as all fireworks are currently prohibited under state and local fire bans.
Be extremely careful with all heat-generating sources, including cigarette butts, vehicles parked in grass, barbecue grills and spark-generating devices including chainsaws.
Campfires – if allowed at all under existing fire bans – need to be monitored continuously and fully extinguished with water until they are cool to the touch.
Report hazardous conditions that could cause a wildfire. Report all smoke or fire sightings immediately to 911.
Teach children about fire safety. Keep matches out of their reach.
Local fire districts recommend following a Ready, Set, Go emergency plan.
Ready: Identify and remove all flammable material from the area surrounding your home. Create defensible space. Clean gutters and chimneys.
Set: Sign up for email and text message alerts at SCAlert.org. Create a family communication plan. Build an evacuation kit that includes medications, food and copies of important documents. A sample evauation kit list is available online at http://www.ldfr.org.
Go: Follow any evacuation procedures as directed by law enforcement. Watch for SCAlerts. Tune in to local radio and television stations, agency social networking sites and http://www.SummitDaily.com for breaking information.
Additional information and tips are available online at http://www.wildlandfirersg.org. Email accounts, cellphones and other handheld devices can be registered for targeted alerts at http://www.scalert.org.
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