Local, federal officials impose Stage 1 fire restrictions for Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Local, federal officials impose Stage 1 fire restrictions for Eagle County

Firefighters from the Eagle River FIre Protection District arrive on scene after a brush fire errupted between the Eagle River and U.S. Highway 6 just west of the Lodge at Brookside in Avon on Monday, June 11. Officials on Tuesday, June 12, imposed Stage 1 fire restrictions throughout Eagle County.

EAGLE COUNTY — Between this county's geographic diversity and tourism-based economy, imposing fire restrictions is serious business. Current fire danger is very serious.

In the wake of several wildfires sparking in the past few days, county and federal officials on Tuesday, June 12, imposed Stage 1 fire restrictions for all of Eagle County. The restrictions are in effect for all non-federal property in the county and will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, June 15, for land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. That's more than 70 percent of all land in the county.

Holy Cross and Eagle District Ranger Aaron Mayville said federal officials will spend the next few days putting up signs explaining those restrictions.

Mayville said having clear, consistent restrictions could be helpful in the forest. Those restrictions, clearly explained, could help with fewer wildfire starts in the area.

"A large majority of our (firefighting) workload goes unseen," Mayville said. "We have crews running around, chasing smoke."

Much of that smoke comes from campfires that have sparked nearby vegetation.

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Mayville said "98 percent of the time," those small fires are handled by the small crews sent to investigate smoke reports.

Having fewer fires sparked by campfires will allow Forest Service crews to focus on higher priority — meaning larger — fires.

One of those larger fires, the Booco fire north and west of Wolcott, quickly grew to more than 400 acres on Saturday, June 9. As of late afternoon Tuesday, June 12, the fire hadn't grown in size but still wasn't yet fully contained, either.

Mayville said the Forest Service is staffed for wildfire season. Local agencies also have manpower to use, if needed. But getting people to fires quickly can be difficult.

A roving patrol

The Avon-based Eagle River Protection District is the county's second-largest in terms of geography — the Gypsum Fire Department's district is bigger — but probably the most geographically diverse. That district covers the county from the top of Tennessee Pass to Cordillera.

District public information officer Tracy LeClair said that district has put firefighters on a specially equipped wildland fire truck. That crew will be constantly on the move, looking for potential trouble.

LeClair said even with the truck on the move, there's plenty of manpower at the district's stations if a fire breaks out at Red Cliff while the roving truck is in Cordillera.

The decision to impose fire restrictions came after a weekly conference call held by fire officials throughout the upper Colorado River watershed. Officials in Garfield and Mesa counties had already imposed restrictions. Local officials held off, due to a combination of current conditions and the fact that putting Eagle County in those restrictions is an all-or-nothing proposition.

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek is the county's top fire official. He said deciding when to impose restrictions is a hard question to answer, at least at first.

"At what point do we go?" van Beek said. "It gets confusing. We can go from 6,000 feet (elevation) to 14,000 (feet)."

It can be dust-dry in lower elevations while — some years — there's still snow in the county's upper reaches.

Then there's the matter of restricting what people can do.

"We want to be cautious about limiting people's rights," whether it's on private property or on public land, van Beek said. "We want people to enjoy themselves."

The need for consistency

Another tricky part of imposing restrictions is officials' desire to be consistent. It's confusing to the public to impose, then lift, restrictions, van Beek said.

Imposing fire restrictions can also draw some backlash. That doesn't seem to be the case this year, van Beek said.

"So far, the feedback I've seen is 'finally,'" he said. "People are very cognizant" of the fire danger this year, he added.

Fire restrictions could also affect tourism, particularly Avon's annual Salute to the USA celebration on Tuesday, July 3. The cornerstone of that event is one of the state's biggest fireworks shows.

Avon Mayor Jennie Fancher said it's too soon to determine whether or not to call off that show.

LeClair agreed, but said fire officials are starting to talk now with the towns that will host those shows.

Now that the restrictions are in place, it's going to take a good bit of rain to lift them.

The possible good news is that the U.S. Climate Prediction Center is calling for an above-average chance of above-average precipitation in the next two weeks.

Until rain comes, though, people need to be careful outside.

"We just want people making good choices," van Beek said. "It's as much the tourists as it is us. … It's all our state."

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

What’s restricted?

• Campfires are allowed only in designated fire grates in developed campgrounds.

• No fires of any type are allowed outside of developed areas.

• No smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle or building.

• No use of explosive materials, including explosive targets.

• No welding except in areas cleared of vegetation.

• No use of internal combustion engines without working spark arresters.

For more information, go to the website of the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Aviation Management Unit.

Source: Eagle County Sheriff’s Office