Avon shuts trailheads at night | VailDaily.com

Avon shuts trailheads at night

Matt Zalaznick

The Mountain Star/Buck Creek, June Creek and Wildridge trailheads are now closed at night, and town officials say they plan to enforce the closures to keep people from starting potentially destructive fires in the tinder-dry woods.

“Everything is so dry, and we just can’t take any chances,” says Avon Public Works Director Bob Reed.

The trails themselves, once they reach National Forest land, are not closed, day or night, Reed says. But because the trailheads are within the town limits of Avon, the town has the authority to shut them down. They are now closed from dawn to dusk.

What may have driven the closures – aside from extremely dry conditions that have only been exacerbated by a lack of rain – is a six-acre wildfire that almost raged out of control after midnight June 8 at the Buck Creek trailhead, below the upscale homes of Avon’s Mountain Star subdivision.

Police believe two 18-year-old men firing off a flare gun sparked the blaze. The men have been questioned and may face felony arson charges. It was unclear Wednesday if the District Attorney’s Office for Eagle County had filed charges against either of the young men.

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“What probably sparked this is that fire below Mountain Star, and I don’t blame those people for being nervous,” says Cal Wettstein, district ranger for the White River National Forest Holy Cross Ranger District.

Firefighters from several local agencies had the Mountain Star fire under control in a few hours. But winds that night could have fanned the flames into a much larger blaze that could have spread rapidly up the Buck Creek Valley, firefighters said at the time.

“Most wildland fires don’t move at night, but this one acted like it was broad daylight,” says Kathy Warren, spokeswoman for the Eagle River Fire Protection District. “We had to go fight a fire that could have spread all the way up that hill with the prevailing winds that night. The potential was great.”

Wildfires often spread faster in the daytime because of warmer temperatures and higher winds.

Open fires and fireworks are banned in both Eagle County and the National Forest. All campfires, charcoal grills and wood stoves are banned from the National Forest. Propane stoves are allowed, however, as long as they meet fire insurance underwriters standards, says Sue Froeschle, a spokeswoman for the White River National Forest.

“I’ve been asked how do you know if a grill meets specifications,” she says. “You know when you start a forest fire and we come and check the grill.

“You can look at the box, but it’s your responsibility to know – and if you don’t know, you’re better off not using it because you can be held responsible for starting a forest fire,” Froeschle says.

Smoking is also prohibited in the National Forest, except in cars and buildings.

Some people apparently have been ignoring the bans, however, Wettstein says.

“People have been having fires out there, as unbelievable as that may sound,” Wettstein says. “Kid are going up there and having parties at night. It’s whatever we have to do (to prevent fires).”

Wettstein says he supports Avon’s nighttime closures of its trailheads.

The only other trails that are closed in the White River National Forest are around Glenwood Springs, where the vicious Coal Seam erupted several weeks ago, Wettstein says.

In a spring and summer of “extreme” fire danger, firefighters throughout the valley say the do not want to spend energy and resources battling man-made blazes.

“It’s just kind of sad someone would do something like that when we’re trying to save resources and energy to react to a real emergency,” Warren says of the Mountain Star fire.

The Avon trailheads will reopen at night when the valley gets enough rain that officials have determined the extreme fire danger has diminished.

“The dusk “til dawn closures will be in effect until further notice,” says Reed.

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.

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