Number of human-caused wildfires continues to grow even as penalties grow harsher |

Number of human-caused wildfires continues to grow even as penalties grow harsher

State struggles to enforce fire bans and prevent burns on private lands

Firefighters from left to right Spencer Heidepriem, Lydia Zowada, and Carmella Locascio conduct a burnout operation to protect structures of the Spring Creek Fire on July 9, 2018 in La Veta, Colorado. Containment numbers continue to climb in the fire as officials gain more of a handle on the large fire.
Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

As firefighters fought the third-largest wildfire in Colorado’s history this summer, a Costilla County sheriff’s deputy drove to the home of a man reported to be burning brush in his backyard.

“He said it sprinkled the day before, so he thought it was OK,” Costilla County Sheriff Amos Medina said. “He had a tractor, so he thought he would be able to lower the blade and put it out.”

Medina recalled his deputies issuing three citations for violating the fire ban after the Spring Creek fire burned more than 100,000 acres, forcing hundreds to evacuate and eventually consuming 139 homes in Costilla County.

It’s a growing problem throughout the West. The number of human-caused wildfires continues to climb even as state and federal lawmakers rush to raise the penalties for disobeying fire bans, igniting fireworks and forgetting or neglecting to properly extinguish campfires.

Colorado lawmakers increased the punishment for failing to fully extinguish a campfire from a $50 fine to a penalty of up to $750 and six months in jail during the 2018 legislative session.

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