Officials urge community to follow fire restrictions after numerous violations
KEYSTONE — Following a surge of violations over the past week, officials around Summit County are pleading with community members to adhere to the Stage 2 fire restrictions that are currently in place.
The Summit Board of County Commissioners enacted the restrictions Aug. 14, including a blanket prohibition on all outdoor fires, along with fireworks, charcoal grills, pile burns and more. Earlier this week, Gov. Jared Polis also issued a statewide ban on open fires due to ongoing wildfires throughout the state.
But officials say Summit County residents and visitors have been slow to adjust.
“When you look at the compliance with COVID and the masks, and all of the orders public health has put out, our community did so well with all of that,” Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “Now, we put out Stage 2 fire restrictions with all of these fires burning around us, and I’m just shocked and dismayed that people are not following the restrictions.”
FitzSimons and both local fire districts expressed that they’ve had to deal with numerous calls regarding violations of the fire restrictions in the week since they were enacted. Offenders are subject to a fine of up to $1,000, according to the county, and FitzSimons said his deputies already have had to issue a number of summonses for individuals starting fires at campsites, and visitors staying in short-term rentals lighting fires in their yards.
With wildfire season in full swing, FitzSimons said there’s no room for leniency.
“We’re seeing a lot of illegal campfires and illegal backyard fires,” FitzSimons said. “Most of the violations with the backyard fires are visitors coming into town who are on vacation and think they can do what they want. But we have to have a zero tolerance policy. With the risks of a fire starting in the community, there’s no backing away from our responsibility to enforce those Stage 2 restrictions.”
Officials say that major wildfires burning across the Western Slope should serve as a reminder for members of the public that conditions are ripe for ignitions and sustained blazes.
The Pine Gulch Fire has grown to almost 125,000 acres north of Grand Junction and now stands as Colorado’s second-largest wildfire in recorded history. The Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon is almost at 30,000 acres, and the human-caused Williams Fork Fire in Grand County is now over 10,000 acres.
With the smoke from nearby blazes still lingering overhead in Summit County, and air quality alerts in place for the entire region, officials say there’s no excuse for ignoring the restrictions.
“There very well could be some ignorance, but there’s also likely some intentional and willful disregard for the restrictions, particularly from individuals who are from Colorado,” said Steve Lipsher, a spokesperson for Summit Fire & EMS. “It’s been on every TV station and newspaper in the state that the governor has put in a statewide fire ban. And if you live here, you’ve awakened to the smell of smoke in your community in the past couple weeks. If that isn’t enough warning, I don’t know what is.
“For out-of-state visitors who don’t understand the threat of a wildfire and how quickly things can get out of control, I understand they may be naive about it. But it’s a pretty cut-and-dry issue.”
Jim Keating — chief at the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District — said his team has been getting five to six reports a night regarding unattended campfires in the district. In one instance earlier this week, Keating said firefighters responded to a campfire that crept out of its ring and into a grassy area adjacent to timber near Boreas Mountain, what he called one of several “close calls.”
Fire restriction violations are relatively common, and law enforcement and the fire districts deal with them frequently on an annual basis. But under the current fire conditions, officials are pushing to make sure that everyone in the area is aware of the restrictions and sticks to them.
“Our fuels are a lot drier than it might look,” Keating said. “Things are pretty green, so people look at that and think, ‘How can it be a danger?’ But the dryness of our vegetation is considerable. A fire can start with just a tiny little spark and with shifting wind conditions that can become a big issue quickly. So we’re asking our public and our visitors to assist us in averting a tragedy.”
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