Eagle County’s Stage 2 fire restrictions likely to remain in place for some time | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s Stage 2 fire restrictions likely to remain in place for some time

The federal Climate Prediction Center drought forecast through Oct. 31 show's Colorado's current drought continuing, but easing. Areas shaded in brown indicate persistent drought. Yellow areas are forecast to develop drought conditions, with the drought breaking in green areas.

EAGLE COUNTY — Eagle County will remain under Stage 2 fire restrictions until weather conditions change.

Those restrictions essentially ban all outdoor fires, including on private property. Propane-powered stoves are still allowed.

The local restrictions were imposed in late June and have applied to the entire county.

Despite the county's varied terrain — from high desert to high alpine — Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek said uniform countywide restrictions make it easier from both an enforcement and user perspective.

If the restrictions were based on elevation, then "how do you know when you're above 7,700 feet?" he said.

While Eagle County remains under the more restrictive rules, Summit County recently went back to Stage 1 restrictions. Those restrictions allow campfires in designated campgrounds — with caveats about keeping those fires under constant supervision and thoroughly extinguishing them.

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There are a couple of lines of thinking behind continuing the more stringent fire restrictions here in Eagle County.

First, going back and forth between more and less severe restrictions creates a public education problem. Law enforcement and public land managers for more than a month have been doing a lot of work with people who still have illegal campfires on public lands.

The second reason is science based. Fire officials around the region participate in a weekly conference call to discuss weather and fuel conditions. In Eagle County, those conditions have stayed hot, dry and fire-prone for weeks.

Eagle River Fire Protection District Community Risk Manager Tracy LeClair participates in those calls. She said during the last call, fire officials reported that the county's fire danger remains "very high" among all types of fuels, from fine grasses to large logs.

One of the factors in figuring out the fire danger is called the "energy release component" of fuels. Among the large logs, the fuel moisture is hovering around 5 percent. In 2012, the last serious drought year, fuel moisture in those logs was above 15 percent.

Eagle Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville said the reason other national forests have eased restrictions is due to precipitation. Summit County has seen more moisture than Eagle County, and its higher elevation has resulted in cooler nights, when humidity generally increases.

"We need a significant amount of moisture" to change Eagle County's conditions, LeClair said. Since the annual summer monsoonal flow has missed Eagle County, it could be winter before fuel moisture levels rise to safer levels.

Fall usually brings less hazardous conditions, primarily due to the fact that cooler evenings generally bring higher relative humidity.

Still, fall can be dangerous. It's still dry, and hunting seasons bring thousands of people to the backcountry. The first of those seasons, archery, begins Saturday, Aug. 25.

"There needs to be some messaging there," LeClair said.

Given current and projected conditions, it's unlikely this area will back down from the current restrictions, Mayville said.

"These aren't easy issues," he added. Restrictions "affect a lot of people."

On the other hand, Mayville added, this summer has shown that fires cost money and time and are potentially life-threatening.

And, van Beek said, a few showers aren't going to change the underlying conditions.

The energy release component of large fuels has hovered at or above the 97th percentile for several weeks.

"With the little bit of rain we had last week, we just dropped below (that level), but then it went right back up," he said.

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

What about shooting sports?

The Vail Valley has two designated public shooting ranges, one near Minturn and one at Gypsum.

• The Minturn range remains closed by order of the U.S. Forest Service.

• The Gypsum Shooting Sports Park is managed by the Eagle Valley Rod & Gun Club. The town and the club are near an agreement for a partial reopening of that facility. If the park reopens, it will initially only be from 4 to 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

• The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office has a range for law enforcement personnel, but that range is also closed.

• A Bureau of Land Management parcel near Wolcott isn’t a designated range but has been used for shooting. That parcel, the epicenter of the Bocco fire in June, remains closed for now.

• Shooting is allowed on public land, but federal regulations always prohibit the use of exploding targets, as well as tracer or incendiary ammunition. All shooters are asked to use only unjacketed lead ammunition, which is far less likely to create a spark.

Sources: Eagle County Sheriff’s Office; U.S. Forest Service; Bureau of Land Management