Next step in ﬁre restrictions is unlikely for the moment
July 8, 2012
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Make no mistake – we remain in an extreme drought, even with the thunderstorms of the past few days. But every drop of rain helps and helps stave off more severe local fire restrictions.Eagle County has been under Stage 2 fire restrictions for several weeks. Those restrictions ban most fires on public and private lands but leave national forest and Bureau of Land Management property open to most uses.Matt McCombs, deputy district ranger for the Holy Cross Ranger District, said those restrictions have worked well so far.”The success story is that the Stage 2 restrictions have worked, as far as human-caused fires are concerned,” McCombs said. Recent rains have helped ease the local fire danger somewhat, but it will take more than a few showers to help where it really counts – in the internal moisture of trees and grasses.”Everything helps, but a tenth of an inch here and a tenth of an inch there isn’t really going to do us much good,” said Diane Johnson, of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.In fact, showers over the past couple of days have put just small spikes in local streamflows.”A good rainstorm will get us a week (of improved streamflows),” Johnson said. “Yesterday, we got an hour.”And the state is remarkably dry. A recent evaluation put more than 70 percent of Colorado – including Eagle County – in “extreme” drought conditions. Some of the state has gone beyond that to “exceptional” dryness.All that is reflected in the amount of moisture in plants.Eagle County’s in a little better shape than the Front Range foothills, but fire managers there have reported that standing trees are just about firewood dry. Getting more moisture into those standing trees will require deep, soil-soaking rain and lots of it. And even that may not be sufficient to revive the finer fuels that can spread fire.”The grasses may have already cured out and may not green up again until next year,” Eagle River Fire Protection District Chief Karl Bauer said.With that said, though, McCombs said there are no current plans to go to the next stage of fire restrictions. In fact, he said, going to Stage 3 “isn’t even on the table right now.”If the summer’s usual monsoon rain pattern develops, that will go a long way toward keeping the current restrictions in place.That’s what everyone wants, because stepping from Stage 2 to Stage 3 is a big, very restrictive step and could potentially shut off much access to public lands.While the current restrictions seem sufficient for now, Minturn Anglers co-owner Matt Sprecher saw potential restrictions coming when snow didn’t come in March and April. That’s why the company this year signed several leases to lead fishing trips on private land – just in case.”The Stage 3 restrictions have been a concern for so many outfitters,” Sprecher said. “Tourism’s the biggest thing in the state.”And that’s part of the reason the current restrictions remain.”We recognize what a huge impact restricting the forest can have to the general public and communities,” McCombs said. More important, though, is the success of the current restrictions.”The general public really gets it,” McCombs said. With this summer’s wildfires serving as stark examples, McCombs said there seems to be “motivation to be extra careful with fire.”And people in the fire-prevention and suppression business have been extra busy getting out information this year.Sprecher said he’s been impressed with the efforts – everything from highway signs to newspaper and radio ads. And McCombs said the Forest Service has put extra people in the field to talk to virtually anyone they see about the danger.”We’re communicating however we can,” McCombs said. “And the message right now is thanks to everyone and keep up the good work.”Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.