Summit County residents now required to have permit for backyard fires

Summit County residents are now required to get a permit for any backyard campfires.
Liz Copan/Summit Daily archive

DILLON — Summit County residents are now required to apply for a permit for backyard campfires, according to amendments to the fire code recently adopted by officials around the county.

Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher said the new restrictions came following a push from county officials out of an abundance of caution to reduce the possibility of wildfires in the area. While not a common problem, Lipsher said his district has had to douse a few out-of-control yard fires over the last couple years.

“In one case it burned down an adjacent fence, and in another it smoldered in the grass for a while and burst out in flames,” Lipsher said. “The problem is people get a little cavalier or lazy. They’ve had a nice time sitting around the fire, it’s late, they’re tired and they go to bed while its still smoldering. And then it creeps along, there’s some wind that blows some embers into some nearby grass and the potential is there for starting a wildfire.”

Permits are free, and require that residents to fill out a brief application on either Summit Fire or Red, White & Blue’s Community Connect portal depending on coverage area.

Under the requirements of the new code, backyard recreational fires must be kept under three feet in diameter and two feet high. Fires must also be confined to a permanent outdoor fire ring, a portable outdoor fireplace or a commercially-designed chiminea. Residents are also required to install a screen to prevent embers from escaping, and have a garden hose, fire extinguisher or five-gallon bucket of water nearby.

Once an application has been submitted, an inspector will contact the applicant to make sure all the minimum requirements have been met and set up a meeting to meet the homeowner and check compliance in person. Permits are already being issued, and Lipsher said inspectors are taking necessary precautions to ensure social distancing.

“It’s going to be a very brief site visit to put eyes on things and make sure you don’t have your fire put under a big tree with low hanging branches, or close to the eaves of the roof of a house,” Lipsher said. “We do try to avoid face-to-face encounters. We want some distance between us, we’re always wearing masks and we’re able to talk from 10 or 15 feet away from the property owner.”

Lipsher noted that the districts expect relatively quick turnaround times for permitting, though they are expecting a heavy “initial wave” of requests ahead of Memorial Day.

“If you have a family reunion on Saturday, don’t apply for one at 4 p.m. on Friday,” Lipsher said.

Backyard fires will be allowed when the fire danger is rated low or moderate, but will be prohibited when the danger level reaches high or very high. Fires will also be prohibited during “red flag” days, when forecasts call for high winds, low humidity and low moisture levels in vegetation.

Permits are valid for one year and are issued to a property, meaning short-term rental properties will only have to obtain one permit.

“Enjoying backyard campfires is a wonderful pastime for us here in the mountains, and we just want to ensure that everyone understands the rules,” said Summit Fire Chief Jeff Berino. “Among those, you never leave a campfire unattended, and you always extinguish it fully so that it is literally cool to the touch when you are done. Nobody wants to see a campfire lead to a catastrophe.”

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