Fire danger signs torn down at trailheads
With the signs gone, visitors from out of state who don’t know about the already destructive wildfires scorching Colorado – or the fire bans in place – might set a campfire in the forest, said Cal Wettstein, district ranger at the U.S. Forest Service Holy Cross Ranger District in Minturn.
“There are a lot of visitors coming to town who might not be aware of the fire danger,” Wettstein said. “If they drive by and the signs are not there, the consequences could be dire.”
All campfires are now banned in the White River National Forest. Open burning of any kind is prohibited throughout Eagle County.
Of particular concern is a sign torn down on Red Sandstone Road in Vail, the most heavily traveled road in the Holy Cross district, Wettstein said.
“One sign missing there is missing a lot of people,” Wettstein said.
The fire danger in the valley and most of the rest of Colorado remains extremely high.
Trees, brush and grass are so dry that even the smallest spark could ignite a wildfire, but there have been reports of campfires being set along the Piney Lake Trail, said Eric Rebitzke, a Minturn-based fire manager for the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit.
“In the last week there have been reports of campfires left burning and unattended up Piney Lake Trail,” Rebitzke said.
Because of the extreme risk this summer, anyone caught violating the ban in forest lands in Eagle County and points west will have to appear before a federal judge in Grand Junction, even visitors from out of state, Rebitzke said.
“We want to keep our forest open for the public to use and enjoy, and we realize that 99 percent of the community understands the danger out there,” Rebitzke said. “We’re trying to get to the segment that doesn’t understand, doesn’t take the risk seriously, or is just ignoring it.”
The scant rain that has fallen on the valley during the past week’s scattered afternoon and evening rainstorms has done nothing to reduce fire danger. In fact, the lightning sparked by the storms is more likely to spark new wildfires.
“The rain is so widespread it’s only hitting a few spots,” Rebitzke said. “The amount of moisture we’re getting isn’t even making a dent.”
There are differing views on when normal summer monsoon rains will start drenching the valley and dampening the fire danger. Various forecasters have predicted an early, heavier monsoon. Others have predicted normal rains and a continued dry summer.
Firefighters are stretched thin battling several fires in the state. Officials don’t want to have to send firefighters and equipment to battle blazes started needlessly by campfires when they’ll be needed to put out fires caused naturally by lightning, Wettstein said.
“If we have to send someone out to chase campfires because a sign is torn down, that’s people we don’t have to deal with a lightning strike,” Wettstein said. “We’re stretched.”
The smattering of wildfires that have burned in Eagle County this spring and summer have all been sparked by lightning. The county has been fortunate because quick responses from firefighters prevented the spread of the 40-acre Ute Creek fire that burned near the Eagle County Landfill, the 8-acre Fulford fire south of Eagle and a tiny fire on Shrine Pass. None of the fires threatened any homes before they were extinguished.
The fire danger has closed the Pike National Forest, some Bureau of Land Management property on the Front Range and several national forests in Arizona, Wettstein said.
Avon is enforcing nighttime closures of all three trailheads that lead from within the town limits to White River National Forest trails.
Several trails have been closed around Glenwood Springs. There has been no move to shut the White River National Forest, but campers violating the fire ban and setting campfires could push officials more rapidly in that direction, Wettstein said.
“This is kind of action that leads to complete closure of the forest – people ignoring the fire ban,” he said.
Rebitzke said the the Holy Cross Ranger District would like to know if residents see any signs that have been torn down. Residents can call the district at 827- 5715.
“We’d like everybody to keep an eye out to if somebody’s messing with the signs,” he said.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.