County enters stage two fire ban

By Avery Martinez
Staff Writer
Fire restrictions in Archuleta County have risen from stage one to stage two and, as a result, have become more restrictive.
Stage two fire restrictions were approved by the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) at a special meeting Tuesday morning.
The restrictions, included in a resolution, were described as necessary to reduce the danger of wildfires countywide.
The restrictions went into effect at noon today, May 29.
Mike Le Roux, the Archuleta County emergency manager, described the restrictions generally as “no open burning whatsoever,” smoking only in buildings and vehicles, and the “big one” is no open flame.
According to Le Roux, there is a list of 10 criteria for fire bans.
To reach a stage one fire ban, you must hit four of the 10 criteria, Le Roux said.
“And a minimum of six to go in to stage two [fire restrictions], and we’ve been hovering around that six while we’ve been in stage one,” Le Roux said.
But, according to Le Roux, the situation is getting more serious.
“And we’re clearly at eight or nine of those parameters as of today,” said Le Roux.
More information and details on the restrictions are listed below.
Stage two restrictions
The Archuleta County stage two restrictions, as described in a resolution presented to the BoCC, are listed as:
• No building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, coal or wood-burning stove, any type of charcoal-fueled broiler or open fire of any type. Stoves powered by bottled or liquid gas are permitted, as long as the operator is allowed to control and extinguish the flame with a valve.
• Smoking is prohibited unless in a vehicle or building.
• Explosive materials are prohibited including fireworks, sparklers, blasting caps and any other incendiary devices that could result in igniting flammable material.
• Blasting will be permitted, in development areas or construction areas with a continuous fire watch, after notification of the Archuleta County sheriff via Archuleta County Combined Dispatch.
• Welding with an acetylene or similar torch is prohibited across the county. Welding and cutting can be permitted, however, if the following requirements are met: the actions are in a 20-foot radius safe zone free of vegetation, there is a two-and-a-half gallon or five-pound fire extinguisher and an ABC extinguisher or a pressurized water supply and proper hand tools must be on site, and a fire watch individual must be standing by continuously. Oil and gas welding and cutting operations must be performed in a 40-foot diameter safe zone.
• Operating or using any internal combustion engine without a spark-arresting device properly installed is prohibited. The engine must be maintained and in effective working order and up to standards.
• Operating a chain saw without a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher is prohibited. The extinguisher of not less than eight ounces capacity by weight, and one size 0 or larger round pointed shovel with an overall length of at least 36 inches. The extinguisher shall be with the chain saw operator. The shovel may be kept with the fueling supplies but readily available
• Flaring for production wells and production facilities may be allowed with the approval from the designated fire chief (or their designee). Any flaring from established gas processing plants or facilities is exempted, and any gas escaping from a well during drilling operations shall be, conducted a safe distance from the well site and flammable vegetation, and burned. Operators are also required to notify Archuleta County Combined Dispatch at 731-2160 in advance of any flaring when it is anticipated, and in all other cases as soon as possible, but no more than two hours after the flaring has occurred.
Fire danger
Le Roux explained to the BoCC that going into a stage two fire ban is prudent at this time.
Weather, such as lightning, was something that was uncontrollable and must be dealt with when it happens, Le Roux explained.
“We can’t stop Mother Nature. the lightning strikes will be what they’ll be,” said Le Roux.
Lightning started two of the fires near Archuleta County this weekend according to Le Roux.
Three fires were described by Le Roux, all of which surrounded the county.
On Friday, a lightning strike caused a fire near Park Creek and quickly spread to 25 acres, Le Roux described.
Helicopters and hot-shot crews were brought to the fire, which burned around an estimated 60 acres, Le Roux explained.
The fire, Le Roux explained, was about 80 percent contained on Tuesday.
While the flames were still burning in Park Creek, an individual legally firing firearms sparked a fire in Bayfield, Le Roux explained.
An attempt was made to contain the flames, but the fire eventually spread to 80 acres worth of land, Le Roux noted.
Hot shots and fire crews were called out again, as well as air support, Le Roux told the BoCC.
“It was an air show all of Saturday, and they basically painted the hill red with [fire] retardant,” said Le Roux.
The fire near Bayfield was 100 percent contained, Le Roux told the board.
Friday also held a fire for New Mexico, a lightning strike started a 150-acre fire about 80 percent contained as of Tuesday, Le Roux explained.
For more information on the fires, see related update on www.PagosaSUN.com.
Traffic in and out of Archuleta County for tourism or visitors was a main concern Le Roux described.
“Given the amount of people we have coming into town … the human costs are still going to be a problem,” said Le Roux.
Le Roux explained he had tried to reach out to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to put warnings of the fire ban on the overhead boards across the county.
Le Roux mentioned he requested two mobile signs from CDOT to be used to try to cover every aspect of the county.
Signs, according to Le Roux, would be placed at many access points around the county to let everyone know that there was currently a ban in progress.
Le Roux expressed some concern over the end of the school-year and parties that may take place in the woods.
“But [fire ban restriction] information needs to go home to parents,” Le Roux said.
The U.S. Forest Service plans to put stage two restrictions in place on June 1, but Le Roux asked the county to move quicker.
“My thoughts on the matter are earlier rather than later,” Le Roux said, explaining that the sooner the information could go out, the better.
“The consequences of inaction … compared to the cost of actually extinguishing a fire, we can’t even measure it,” Commissioner Michael Whiting said of the ban.
avery@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on May 29, 2018.