Public land shooting ranges in Eagle County close amid fire danger and three fires on three ranges | VailDaily.com

Public land shooting ranges in Eagle County close amid fire danger and three fires on three ranges

The 415-acre Bocco Mountain Fire north of Wolcott was one of three sparked this summer by illegal shooting on public land gun ranges. The largest is the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt. Those public land gun ranges are closed until fire danger subsides.

GYPSUM — Most shooters behave themselves, but after illegal incendiary rounds sparked the 5,000-acre Lake Christine fire near Basalt, Colorado Parks and Wildlife closed the Basalt range, said Bob Broscheid, the agency's director. Other shooting ranges on public land in Eagle County are also closed and will stay closed until fire danger subsides.

"We understand the fear, concern and anger of local residents. We share this frustration and concern," Broscheid said. "Participation in shooting sports happens safely every day, and an unfortunate incident like this one shows the importance of respecting the rules and laws regarding the use of firearms."

Basalt shooting range closed

The town of Basalt contacted Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Monday, July 2, about closing the range, citing fire danger, Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said.

The Lake Christine fire was sparked Tuesday, July 3, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife shut down the Basalt shooting range Wednesday, July 4. A Colorado Parks and Wildlife statement to the Aspen Times said it didn't receive any formal requests to change its management policies or operation of its shooting ranges but closed the Basalt range Wednesday as a precaution.

J.T. Romatzke, Northwest Regional manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said in a statement Wednesday morning that use of the shooting range wouldn't have posed a fire hazard if it were used responsibly.

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"The Basalt range is a great facility and is a very safe range," Romatzke said in the statement. "The fire was caused by one person's irresponsible behavior, not standard behavior practiced at a range. However, with these extreme drought conditions, we are closing our ranges out of an abundance of caution."

All shooting ranges throughout the Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Northwest Region will be closed indefinitely, the agency said.

For now, El Jebel residents Richard Karl Miller, 23, and Allison Sarah Marcus, 22, are charged with a misdemeanor for firing tracer rounds, bullets that include a pyrotechnic charge. Those rounds allegedly started the fire at the Basalt State Wildlife Area.

However, after the fire grew and damaged property and homes, those misdemeanors will likely be increased to felonies, 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown said. If convicted, then Miller and Marcus face up to six years each in state prison.

ILLEGAL SHOOTING

Illegal shooting on legal gun ranges also started wildfires in Wolcott and Minturn in early June. Minturn gun range is closed to the public.

Shooters at a Bureau of Land Management shooting range above Wolcott sparked the Bocco fire on Saturday, June 9, when they reportedly targeted dry sagebrush beyond the normal target area.

Crews quickly contained the fire, holding it to the 415 acres to which it grew that afternoon.

Eagle County Sheriff's detectives still want to question three people who might have been involved with that fire. They might have been driving a blue Toyota Tacoma with a "bully bar" push bumper in front and a white or silver sedan, possibly an Audi.

The same weekend illegal shooting sparked the Bocco fire, someone also shot at a flammable target at the Minturn range, sparking a small fire that was quickly extinguished. The Minturn fire did not attract much public attention, with crews working and bombers and helicopters dropping water and fire retardant on Bocco Mountain.

The Minturn gun range is on Forest Service land, and the agency decided Thursday, July 5, to close it, said Aaron Mayville, district ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District.

"Usually, Stage 2 fire restrictions don't require shooting ranges to close. But with the extreme fire danger, we made the decision to close the Minturn range," Mayville said.

Nothing bad at Gypsum; they're keeping it that way

Nothing bad has happened at Gypsum's Shooting Sports Park, and the town and gun club want to keep it that way.

Gypsum town manager Jeremy Rietmann and Mayor Steve Carver closed Gypsum's Shooting Sports Park on Thursday afternoon, July 5, and said it would remain closed until fire conditions improve significantly.

The park is owned by the town of Gypsum and managed by Eagle Valley Rod & Gun Club.

Rietmann said it was the prudent move, given the fire conditions.

"With the Lake Christine fire near Basalt having consumed over 5,000 acres since Tuesday evening, the town of Gypsum concluded it is an unacceptable risk to allow the gun club to remain open, given current fire conditions and the existing strain on fire mitigation resources and public safety agencies across the region," Rietmann said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

REMINDER ABOUT RESTRICTIONS

All of Eagle County is currently under Stage 2 fire restrictions, meaning the following things are banned:

• Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire, charcoal grill, coal, wood-burning stove or sheepherders stove, including in developed camp and picnic grounds. Devices with shut-off valves using pressurized liquid or gas are exempted;

• Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle, trailer or building;

• Using an explosive including but not limited to fuses or blasting caps, fireworks, rockets, exploding targets and tracers or incendiary ammunition;

• Operating a chainsaw without an approved spark arrestor and without a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher and a round-point shovel with an overall length of at least 35 inches that is readily available for use;

• Welding or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame, except with a current permit, contract or letter of authorization;

• Use of motor vehicles off National Forest system roads, except when parking in an area devoid of vegetation within 10 feet of the roadway and except for parking overnight in developed campgrounds and at trailheads.

Restrictions in Eagle County also apply to private lands. That means no charcoal grills. Also: All shooting ranges in the county are closed until further notice.

A comprehensive listing of fire restrictions throughout the state and other fire related emergency information can be found online at http://www.coemergency.com.