Sheriff restricts open burning in Eagle County
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy on Thursday imposed fire restrictions in the county that limits almost all open outdoor burning.
The decision came after hours of phone and email conversations between Hoy, the county’s ultimate fire officer, and the chiefs of the county’s fire districts. The fire restrictions come just as local ranchers usually start burning ditches in order to clear them of weeds before summer irrigation season begins. The restrictions also ban virtually all other outdoor fires, except in camp stoves and in campground fire rings.
Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller said he was among those who lobbied for the fire restrictions. Miller said there are guidelines for imposing fire restrictions, including relative humidity, wind and the presence of “red flag” warnings for fire danger.
“We haven’t reached those parameters,” Miller said. “But we’ve come to the consensus that it’s in the best interest of the public, and public safety, to do this … at least until we get some moisture.”
Also driving the decision was a “fire weather watch” notice issued Thursday afternoon by the National Weather Service calling for strong, gusty winds and continued dry conditions across western Colorado. A Thursday afternoon Weather Service forecast for Vail predicts precipitation just one day, April 1, in the next week. That won’t be enough to lift the restrictions.
A Thursday afternoon release from Hoy’s office announcing the restrictions states, “Eagle County has seen little moisture and fire conditions continue to worsen. In addition, Red Flag Fire and high wind warnings and watches have continued to be issued. The National Weather Service has declared March 2012 as the driest month on record.”
Besides natural conditions, there are also human conditions to consider.
The Lower North Fork fire in the foothills west of the Denver area has claimed at least two lives, burned more than 4,000 acres so far and has destroyed more than two dozen buildings. That fire has people all over the state on edge.
“We’re getting phone calls when someone lights a charcoal grill right now,” Miller said.
The fire restrictions has suspended current outdoor burning permits until conditions change.
Aside from the very limited outdoor fires allowed, the current restrictions ban all other open outdoor fires, including:
• Burning solid fuels outside approved areas.
• Using explosive material, including fireworks, blasting caps or any incendiary device that may start a fire.
Violators can be cited and are subject to $500 fines for a first offense. The fines get higher for subsequent violations.
While Miller’s territory is Vail, he came to the valley from Loveland, which is surrounded by agricultural land. He knows that this time of year is usually when ranchers burn fields and ditches. Still, he said, a fire can easily and quickly get away from even the most diligent fire-watcher.
“At this point, we’re just thrilled to have (the restrictions) in place,” Miller said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.