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Camp free of flames, bears

Shauna Farnell

Stock up on trail mix. Memorial Day weekend is the official kick off to High Country camping season, but the dry weather this summer will require outdoor enthusiasts to make special provisions.

“There are no open fires allowed anywhere that is not a designated (U.S.) Forest Service campground,” said District Ranger Jamie Connell of the Dillon Ranger District. “If (campers) are going to have a fire on the ground, it has to be inside a fire ring installed by the Forest Service.”

The Forest Service recently issued a fire restriction order that applies to White River National Forest lands within Summit, Eagle, Garfield, Mesa and Gunnison counties. The order prohibits building any kind of fire, using a charcoal broiler, stove or wood stove anywhere that is not a developed camping or picnic area.

“Fuel moistures are really low,” said Thad Chavez, fire engine foreman for the surrounding zone of the White River National Forest. “We’re within a drought, a long-term drought that’s probably lasted a few years now, but which has become especially bad this last winter. Everything is just dry. (Campers) can still use gas stoves, those little camping stoves, but that’s all you can use.”

Forest Service representatives suggested using an electric lantern or a flashlight in a bucket instead of fire for a primary source of light when camping. Wild lands in the High Country aren’t as severely dry as areas elsewhere in Colorado, but this is another reason for the fire restrictions.

“What we’re taking into consideration is that there are so many (wildfire) incidents ongoing elsewhere in the state, we don’t have the resources for potential problems around here too,” Connell said. “We don’t want to add to the problem.”

Smoking is also prohibited on Forest land that is not a developed recreation area. Forest Service officials say fire bans could very well last throughout the summer, but July monsoon season might lift some of the restrictions.

“We usually get monsoon flow after the first week in July,” Chavez said. “Then, things might change.”

Chavez said most of the human-caused wildfires he’s come across in past summers were started from abandoned campfires left to smolder. He said when people put out their campfires in fire rings, they should stir the ashes to make sure to get all the heat out.

Who’s that sleeping

in my tent?

Fire is not the only danger campers need to consider this summer. Representatives from the Summit County branch of the Colorado Division of Wildlife have already received several calls about bear sightings this spring, and are concerned that campers take precautions to keep their food out of reach of wildlife.

“With Memorial Day weekend, people are starting to come out and recreate and camp. And the potential for having bear conflicts increases,” said Kirk Oldham, of the Dillon District of the CDOW. “The most common attraction for bears is messy campsites – half-burned food in the fires, extra food left around in pots and grills, camp stoves covered in grease …”

When car camping, food should be locked in a car or cooler. When backpacking, it should be hung from a tree, 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from the tree trunk. Also, Oldham said garbage should be removed from the camping area, and if in a designated campground where open fires are permitted, campers should never burn plastics or any garbage that might remain in the fire ring.

“We don’t suggest burying or burning trash,” he said. “As far as wildlife or bears are concerned, you might not completely burn things. You don’t want a half-baked can of beans sitting in the ashes of your fire. Bears have a wonderful sense of smell, even if we bury garbage.”

Wildlife representatives also warn campers against leaving food inside their tents, and say that fragrant toiletries such as deodorant and toothpaste should be stored in the same safe place as food. They also point out that one messy camping area is all it takes to attract bears the entire summer.

“That family this weekend might get away with not having a bear come in, but those bears get used to coming into a campsite,” Oldham said. “Often times, bears keep returning to one site, regardless of different campers who might not be as messy.”


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