Eagle County to drop all fire restrictions at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 7 | VailDaily.com

Eagle County to drop all fire restrictions at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 7

Fire officials from both Eagle County and federal agencies have agreed to drop all local fire restrictions as of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 7.

EAGLE COUNTY — After nearly a full summer of fire restrictions, Eagle County will drop all fire restrictions as of 12:01 a.m. Friday, Sept. 7.

The move comes thanks to cooler days and nights, a bit more rainfall and higher relative humidity and moisture levels in grasses and trees.

Still, it's very dry.

The decision to drop all of Eagle County's fire restrictions came following a weekly regional conference call among fire officials throughout this part of the Colorado River basin.

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek, the county's lead fire official, said the decision was unanimous.

"The numbers were there," van Beek said, referring to temperature and moisture readings. In fact, he added, those numbers were dropping even last week.

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Officials dropped Eagle County back to Stage 1 fire restrictions at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Aug. 31, in time for Labor Day weekend. That decision came after fire officials in late June imposed very-strict Stage 2 restrictions. Those restrictions banned the outdoor use of virtually anything that could make a spark, although propane-fueled devices were still allowed.

Stage 1 restrictions permit people to have campfires, but only in fire rings in designated campgrounds. Dropping those restrictions on Friday allows campfires in the hundreds of dispersed camping sites — sites not in designated campgrounds — throughout public lands in the county.

Easing fire restrictions comes on the opening weekend of the hunting season for those using black powder firearms. Hunting seasons for those using more powerful conventional rifles begin in October.

Many hunters prefer dispersed campsites, but van Beek said the decision wasn't made to accommodate those people.

In fact, van Beek said last week's decision to drop to Stage 1 restrictions was made, in part, to cut back on the possibility of human error with backcountry fires.

"The numbers said we could go to (Stage 1) or (no restrictions)," van Beek said. "We said, 'let's try to avoid the human factor of doing something foolish.'"

There's also the fact that state and federal firefighting resources are still stretched thin.

With the coming elimination of fire restrictions, Eagle County will join Pitkin and Summit counties in easing limits on outdoor fires. Those three counties will all have no restrictions as of Friday. Garfield County officials kept restrictions in place there.

The Gypsum Fire Protection District covers 455 square miles that includes some of the county's lowest-elevation and driest terrain.

Gypsum Fire Chief Justin Kirkland said his department agreed with dropping the fire restrictions.

"It's all done on science," Kirkland said, adding that the numbers for temperatures, humidity and fuel moisture meet all the criteria for easing restrictions.

And, Kirkland said, Gypsum firefighters have firsthand experience with the lessening fire danger. A thunderstorm on Friday, Aug. 31, brought three calls of lightning hitting trees. In all three cases, the fire from the lightning strike was confined to those trees and didn't spread.

That's a marked change from our dry July. On Sunday, July 22, a lightning strike just north of Gypsum burned about 27 acres before it was contained.

Both Kirkland and van Beek said that while restrictions will drop in time for the weekend, people need to remain cautious.

"Things are still dry," Kirkland said.

While fuel moisture levels have improved, that comes just as grasses start their fall die-off. That means grasses won't retain moisture for long. And, van Beek added, large fuels including fallen logs are still very dry.

"It's better than it was six weeks ago," van Beek said. "But that doesn't mean things won't catch."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.

What this means

• You can have a campfire in dispersed camping areas.

• Fireworks are always banned on public lands.

• Exploding targets and “tracer” ammunition are also banned on public lands.

• It’s still really dry in the backcountry.