Eagle County’s new fire restriction ordinance removes criminal penalties for violators | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s new fire restriction ordinance removes criminal penalties for violators

To comply with changes in state law, the ordinance removes criminal penalties for violators

Here's a look at what is and isn't allowed under Stage 1 fire restrictions.
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Eagle County has made some fairly minor changes to its fire restriction ordinance. The ordinance applies only to property in unincorporated Eagle County, not in towns or on federal property.

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday gave second-reading approval to the existing ordinance. The changes primarily reflect changes in state law.

The main changes regard penalties for those who start wildfires when restrictions are in place. Citations will now be civil, not criminal in nature. Violators under the old ordinance could be charged with a Class 2 petty offense.

The new ordinance also removes the restitution provisions of the old ordinance.

Assistant county attorney Matt Peterson told the commissioners that those who violate the ordinance can be charged with other criminal offenses that do carry restitution provisions.

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Peterson added that the changed provisions of state law haven’t been well received in other mountain counties. Commissioner Matt Scherr noted he’d had an email from Minturn Town Council member George Brodin expressing concern about the levels of penalties in the new ordinance.

“I sort of agree with George,” Scherr said. “But this is done to comply with state statute.”

The ordinance also has more specific links for emergency notifications, as well as details about the reasons fire restrictions are declared by the county sheriff. That position in much of Colorado also carries the responsibility of fire warden for areas outside towns and cities.

But Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek noted that the authority to declare fire restrictions lies ultimately with county commissioners. In some cases, a sheriff has to ask the commissioners to act to impose those restrictions. The commissioners here changed that protocol many years ago, van Beek said.

Some county fire restrictions are automatic. In the wake of the 2018 Lake Christine fire near Basalt, the commissioners passed an ordinance requiring the county to go into fire restrictions if the National Weather Service issues a red-flag fire weather warning. Those warnings are based on temperature, humidity and wind. If the county is already in, say, Stage 1 restrictions, the restrictions are bumped up to Stage 2 for as long as the red-flag warning is in effect.

There are exceptions to those restrictions, primarily for outdoor construction and agricultural burning, both of which require permits.

While criminal penalties have been lifted from state law, van Beek told the commissioners that the intent of his office is to communicate, not punish.

In a phone conversation after Tuesday’s meeting, van Beek said he wants fire restrictions presented in a way that encourages people to “do the right thing” when it comes to fire safety.

The text of Eagle County’s new fire restriction ordinance has been published on the county’s website.

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