EAGLE COUNTY - The good news is the county isn't nearly as dry as it was three weeks ago, so campfires are back in places. The bad news is it's going to take a little research to know where fires are allowed.
Thanks to recent rains and cooler temperatures, the U.S. Forest Service has lifted its fire restrictions throughout the White River National Forest, which includes the higher-elevation portions of Eagle County. That means campers can have fires in developed campgrounds, on backcountry trips and in side-of-the-road "dispersed" camping areas.
The story is different in other parts of the county. The Bureau of Land Management is keeping "stage two" restrictions in place that virtually eliminate open fires. In many cases, the difference is as simple as elevation and climate.
While higher-elevation areas such as the U.S. Forest Service's East Vail Campground have received enough rain to moderate the fire danger, the BLM's Catamount campground along the Colorado River Road is lower, warmer and dryer. But the local BLM district also includes areas as far west as Grand Junction, areas that haven't received anything like the moisture that's hit Eagle County.
Ross Wilmore of the U.S. Forest Service said BLM officials are trying to remain consistent across the Colorado River Valley management area.
"It would be even more confusing than if we did this county by county," Wilmore said.
Besides the differences in restrictions on federal land, Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy has imposed "stage one" restrictions on private land in the county. Those restrictions allow campfires, but only in fire rings in developed campsites. On private property, people can have outdoor fires in outdoor fireplaces and similar devices.
It's all sort of confusing, but it reflects what's going on the county.
"It's more complex, but you can't get one thing that fits all the situations," Greater Eagle Fire Protection District Division Chief Tom Wagenlander said. "In this county we go from 14,000 feet (elevation) to below 6,000 feet."
In short, what works in East Vail doesn't usually work in Catamount, unless we're really dry or really wet.
Eagle County Wildfire Mitigation Officer Eric Lovgren said if anyone has any questions about whether it's safe to strike a match, answers are just a phone call or web search away.
While the new regulations may prompt some confusion, Lovgren said the new rules will help get people back into the forests, which is important for the local economy.
While people in the fire-watching business are breathing a bit easier right now, they're all still preaching caution.
"People still need to be really careful out there," Wilmore said.
And, Lovgren added, conditions can change for the wetter or dryer, and quickly.
"We're only in mid-July - we've got a long way to go," he said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.