Eagle County under Stage 2 fire restrictions through Thursday
More severe restrictions lasted only nine hours — the length of Thursday's 'red flag' fire weather warning
If you came to Eagle County Wednesday to camp, you may have seen notices regarding Stage 1 fire restrictions. That changed Thursday, but for only nine hours.
The National Weather Service Thursday issued a red flag fire weather warning for the Western Slope. The declaration of the fire weather warning also automatically took the county from Stage 1 to Stage 2 fire restrictions.
The differences are significant. Perhaps the biggest difference is with campfires.
Under Stage 1 restrictions, campfires are allowed only in designated campgrounds. In short, if you paid to camp, you can have a campfire.
Stage 2 restrictions ban all campfires. In fact, you can only use devices with shutoff valves. That includes portable propane-fueled campfires, grills and similar devices.
The enhanced fire restrictions also allow smoking only in a building, vehicle or cleared area. Construction “hot work” — grinding, welding and similar work — can be done only after an inspection by fire officials.
Elevated danger — for a few hours
But Thursday’s red flag warning was issued only from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. A county ordinance states that when red flag warnings expire, so do additional fire restrictions.
Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek is the county’s lead fire official. The county ordinance allows officials to ramp up fire restrictions without separate orders for often-changing weather, van Beek said. And, he added, the added restrictions can “have some teeth” regarding enforcement.
While fire restrictions ramped up Thursday, van Beek noted that the area has for a while been on the lower end of conditions required for Stage 1 fire restrictions. Those restrictions are based on the “energy release component” of grasses and other fuels in area wildlands. That measure ventured into Stage 2 territory in early July, but only for a few days.
Since then, the occasional rainfall the county has received has help push the flammability of fuels down into Stage 1 territory.
While Thursday’s Stage 2 restrictions lasted only a few hours, van Beek said the region is drying out. Some areas, particularly west of Eagle County, are seeing historically dry conditions, he said.
Dropping into and out of fire restrictions can help enforcement, but can be confusing.
Hard to reach everyone
Tracy LeClair, the education and public information officer for the Avon-based Eagle River Fire Protection District, said it’s hard to reach backcountry visitors when restrictions change quickly.
“We may not reach everyone,” LeClair said, adding that some of the restriction definitions can be confusing.
That’s especially true of what makes an “established” fire ring. In short, a ring of rocks isn’t established. A ring with metal set into the ground is.
What’s important is letting people know about current conditions. In parts of the county, a small spark, combined with strong winds, can start an intense, quickly-spreading fire.
The good news, at least for a few days, is that fire weather may be easing.
Scott Stearns, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said the weather system that brought Thursday’s hot, windy conditions is moving north. Winds through the weekend won’t be as strong, although temperatures are expected to be in the mid- to high 80s in Avon.
Stearns said the the middle of next week brings the next best chance for winds strong enough for a fire weather declaration. But, with the exception of scattered showers in higher elevations, there isn’t much precipitation in the forecast for the coming week.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.