No fire ban – yet, authorities say
There are no plans to declare an outdoor fire ban in Eagle County yet, despite reports that Summit County officials just over the pass already are considering one.
County officials typically begin considering fire bans in May or June. But Summit County officials are so concerned about the recent summer-like weather they are considering declaring the earliest fire ban in recent memory.
Fire officials in Eagle County are still concerned about the impact this spring’s dry and mild weather might have on the summer fire season. But there is still snow on the hills, said Lt. Mike McWilliam of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
“We ask people to be careful because it’s hot and dry and that’s unusual for March weather,” McWilliam said. “We still have some snowpack.”
So far only 3.5 inches of precipitation have fallen this month in Avon, the home base for National Weather Service watcher Frank Doll. The long-term average in Avon is 16.5 inches and the lowest count Doll can recall is 4.1 inches in 1999.
The only thing that is up are temperatures. Temperatures Monday were in the 70s across the county. While forecasters are calling for cooling temperatures throughout the week, there’s little chance of any significant precipitation.
Last year, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office instituted fire restrictions July 10 and the White River Forest Service declared a fire ban by mid-July. The restrictions ban the use of solid-fuel fires except in constructed fire pits with a grate. When a ban is in place, only cooking on gas-fueled stoves and grills is allowed on public lands. Charcoal-fueled stoves and grills are allowed only on private property.
Private fireworks are banned, as well as any explosive devices requiring fuses. Any pyrotechnic device that leaves the ground is also illegal.
Despite the ban, wildfires popped up in various places in Eagle County, including a fire that burned 1,200 acres near Dotsero last summer. No structures were threatened in that fire, but authorities believe it was caused by human activity.
The summer of 2002 marked one of the worst wildfire seasons in Colorado history, with thousands of acres charred. Wildfires are most often ignited by lightening or by human activity, such as lit cigarettes or smoldering campfire ashes, but the large Coal Seam Fire in Glenwood Springs in 2002 was sparked by an underground coal fire.
There have already been several wildfires in other parts of the state this year. Arapahoe County has already posted an open fire ban.
The U.S. Forest Service has no immediate plans for fire restrictions on federal land, said Eric Rebitzke, a U.S. Forest Service fire manager based in Eagle.
“I think we’re a little behind,” Rebitzke said. “But we’ve been in this situation. Last year we got quite a bit of snow at the end and that helped out tremendously.”
U.S. Forest Service officials are preparing for the summer wildfire season with prescribed burns. During a prescribed burn, firefighters set a fire in a controlled setting to burn off brush and dead plant material that could provide fuel for a wildfire.
Rebitzke says he is keeping his fingers crossed.
“We’ve still got some snow on the hills,” he said. “It’s not that bad.”
Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 949-0555 ext. 607. Staff writer Cliff Thompson contributed to this story.