Police to aggressively enforce fire ban regs
SUMMIT COUNTY – Law enforcement and fire officials in Summit County are counting on the eyes and ears of the community to react immediately if they see smoke, fire, fireworks or anything suspicious this summer.
“The situation of the emergency in the state is a priority of ours,” said Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales at a press conference Wednesday morning. “I don’t think the state’s ever seen anything like this – ever.”
More than a half dozen fires throughout the state have consumed about 150,000 acres, and none are under control. The most serious, the Hayman fire, is located between Colorado Springs and Hartsel, and has forced law enforcement officers to ask residents as far away as southeast Denver to voluntarily leave their homes.
Locally, fire and law enforcement officers are gearing up for a wildland fire, particularly since the Fourth of July is two weeks away and traditionally attracts thousands of celebrators to revel in fireworks shows over Lake Dillon and in Breckenridge. Scores of employees at Copper Mountain and Keystone resorts have taken crash courses in wildland fire behavior and management. Fire grates have been removed from Dillon town parks.
Police and sheriff’s officers, backed up by the district attorney’s office, are taking a zero-tolerance stance on open fires – even in established campgrounds and private property – and fireworks.
“I love fireworks as much as the next guy,” Morales said. “But we just can’t risk it. We are going to do what we need to do to protect life, property and resources.”
People are encouraged to call 911 if they see smoke, fire, fireworks or anything else suspicious, said Abbie Cobb, director of emergency communications for the county. She takes the stance that it’s better to be safe than sorry, and a quick response by residents, then fire departments, will make it less likely a fire will spread.
People also are asked to report anyone who tosses a lighted cigarette butt out their car window, she said. They are requested to try to get the license plate number and a description of the person driving the car so police can locate and cite them.
People caught will be cited with reckless endangerment, a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of between $50 and $750 and/or a jail sentence of six months later. The district attorney’s office will most likely throw the book at offenders, said assistant DA Mark Hurlbert.
“This is extremely serious,” he said. “We’re going to take a hard-line approach to this. There will be no plea offers for anyone who comes in with an open fire or fireworks ticket.”
The civil and federal repercussions could be worse for those whose campfires, cigarette butts or fireworks ignite the forest.
Morales said someone convicted of a large-scale fire such as the Hayman fire could be fined up to three times the cost of the fire, including reimbursements for homes that were burned and habitat destroyed. If someone dies in such a fire, the person who started it could be charged with felony murder, Hurlbert said. Such a conviction means life without parole.
Officials Wednesday said the Fourth of July is bound to be challenging, particularly if large fires in the state are burning and requests for assistance are received. Morales said Park County officials asked Tuesday if Summit County could spare additional sheriff’s officers to assist with evacuations, roadblocks and detours at the Hayman fire.
“The Fourth of July is a big deal for everybody,” Morales said. “But this is a difficult year.”
Local law enforcement officials plan to notify the resort chambers and management companies and ask them to educate guests about the fire danger and bans in the county.
They also plan to meet with members of the Interagency Management Group, which coordinates management of large-scale disasters. The group will hold a “table-top” meeting next week to pose hypothetical situations and develop detailed plans.
Some of those plans will be based on what Morales has been able to glean from officials in other counties. For example, one county planned to place brightly colored stickers with the letter “E” on the doors of homes from which the occupants had been evacuated. Such notification would let other emergency responders know the house was empty. The problem with that, however, was the stickers couldn’t be seen from the road.
County and state-wide bans are in effect
All open fires, including bonfires, campfires – even in established grills and campsites – fireworks and other devices that can create sparks are banned. Permitted fires include gas grills on private property and those in fireplaces or wood stoves. Smoking is banned at all Summit and Eagle county ski resorts.
People caught violating the ban will be cited. Fines range from $50 to $750 and/or up to six months in jail.
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