Fire restrictions are on
Eagle County Sheriff A.J. Johnson, however, did not impose a full fire ban. But fire danger has been very high in Vail and extreme at lower elevations in Eagle and Gypsum because of low snowfall this winter and worsening drought conditions so far this spring, said Phil Bowden, a fire management officer with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.
“It’s very dry,” Bowden said. “We’re doing this as a precaution to prevent what’s been going on on the Front Range.”
Two weeks ago, more than 500 firefighters were called to battle a wildfire that burned 2,400 acres near the town of Bailey in Park County. The entire town –4,400 residents –was temporarily evacuated, though only two buildings were destroyed.
The fire burned in high elevations that are usually still covered in snow at the end of April.
“The vegetation greening up will moderate the fire danger a little bit, but with the drought it’s probably not going to last very long and things will start drying out again,” Bowden said.
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What’s making the problem even worse is the recent string of chilly nights, with temperatures below freezing. The spring frost has killed some of the budding vegetation, he said.
Last year, Johnson imposed a full fire ban in Eagle County on June 28. Summit County already has fire restrictions, and a full fire ban was imposed in Garfield County Monday.
The restrictions imposed Thursday apply to all private and public lands in Eagle County including areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
Smoking on BLM lands is prohibited except inside cars and trailers, buildings and tents. And smokers elsewhere should also be careful where they put out their cigarettes, Eagle County sheriff’s spokeswoman Kim Andree said.
“We’re asking that people who smoke don’t put cigarettes out the car window,” Andree said. “Try and smoke on the patio and not while walking in the forest. Use common sense to minimize the possibility of a fire.”
Campers are restricted to cooking on propane grills or grated fire pits in approved campground and picnic areas. Burning solid fuels outside designated areas is prohibited until officials decide the wildfire danger has abated.
Private fireworks, along with any explosive devices requiring fuses, are prohibited under the restrictions. A person caught using such devices could be arrested and charged with a felony.
Welding, or using an acetylene torch or other torches with an open flame, is prohibited on U.S. Forest Service and BLM lands.
Chainsaws and any other device without a spark arrester can not be used. To use such devices on BLM lands, the user must have an 8-ounce pressurized fire extinguisher and a round point shovel that’s at least 36 inches long.
And ranchers maintaining ditches and agricultural property are urged to burn fuels in the early morning while the weather is cool and before heavy winds start blowing.
Andree said residents found to have disregarded the restrictions and who have been irresponsible in the maintenance of a fire may have to pay the cost the putting out the fire.
“We’re about six weeks earlier than we have been in the past,” Andree said. “We’re hoping this stimulates a nice solid rain.”
Forecasters expect rain and even some snow to fall on higher elevations today and Saturday. The weather today is forecast to be partly cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon. Rain could continue tonight with snow levels dropping to 7,500 feet. Rain and snow could continue to fall through Saturday night.
But that precipitation may not help reduce the fire danger much. And even though forecasters expect normal precipitation this summer, even that won’t alleviate drought conditions, National Weather Service forecaster Jerry Smith has said.
“It’ll be year before we get out of it,” Smith said.