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Area fire restrictions eased


Staff Writer

In response to monsoonal moisture, area agencies have downgraded fire restrictions from a Stage 2 ban back to Stage 1.

Archuleta County, the Town of Pagosa Springs, San Juan National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe all moved to Stage 1 restrictions effective Wednesday, July 17.

Stage 1 restrictions are in effect until each agency rescinds them for its jurisdiction.

While Stage 1 restrictions are similar across agencies, anyone traveling into a particular area is urged to check specific restrictions.

To determine current fire restrictions throughout Colorado, please visit http://www.coemergency.com/p/fire-bans-danger.html.

Town and county

Archuleta County and the Town of Pagosa Springs have downgraded fire restrictions due to moisture that has decreased fire danger, especially from lightning starts.

According to Drew Petersen, Archuleta County director of emergency management, Stage 2 restrictions were implemented in the county and town in order to preserve resources for fires started from lightning strikes.

Despite the moisture, however, Petersen warned that just a couple days of warmer, drier weather can again increase fire danger, and larger, drier fuels will take longer to gain moisture, meaning vigilance is urged with campfires.

In general, Stage 1 restrictions prohibit open burning, burn barrels and agricultural burning. More specifically, the restrictions prohibit the following:

• 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 in undeveloped areas.

However, charcoal fires in suitable containers such as grills for barbecues at private residences or fires within designated campground pits with protective grates are allowed, provided they are not left unattended, and fires or coals are fully extinguished after use.

Allowed, too, are camp stoves, grills or lights fueled by bottled gas or pressurized liquid fuel for the purpose of camp cooking or illumination, provided they are not left unattended and are fully extinguished after use.

• Using explosive materials, such as fireworks, blasting caps or any incendiary device that may result in the ignition of flammable material are prohibited.

Only community fireworks displays that have been or may be approved by the Archuleta County sheriff are permitted.

• Smoking is limited to vehicles, buildings, developed recreational areas, and areas three-feet in diameter that are clear of all flammable vegetation.

• Internal combustion engines must have spark arresters and meet either Department of Agriculture, Forest Service standards or appropriate Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recommended practices.

• Cutting and welding operations must have fire hand tools and 40 pounds worth of fire extinguishers or a pressurized water supply immediately available, and a person identified as a fire watch standing by continuously when an ignition of natural fuels is possible.

• Oil and Gas Operations: Flaring for production wells is allowed, but a contact must be made to dispatch (731-2160), and compliance with the Rules for Fire Prevention and Protection must be met (Rule 606A).

Public lands

The San Juan National Forest has eliminated its fire restrictions at higher elevations, and eased fire restrictions at lower and middle elevations.

Similarly, the BLM has downgraded its restrictions to Stage 1 for public lands in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata and Montezuma counties.

According to a SJNF press release, fire managers have determined that lower and middle elevations remain dry and potentially flammable, while higher elevations have received enough moisture to significantly reduce fire danger.

In general, Stage 1 restrictions mean:

• Campfires are limited to permanent fire rings or grates within developed campgrounds;

• Smoking is limited to vehicles, buildings, developed recreation sites, or 3-foot wide areas cleared of vegetation;

• Acetylene and other torches with an open flame are prohibited;

• Use of explosives is prohibited.

The restriction boundary line will remain the same as it has been, bisecting the national forest from east to west, following identifiable jurisdictional boundaries, roads and trails at approximately 8,500 feet.

Only those areas south of the line will be under the above-described Stage 1 restrictions.

Fire managers highly recommend the additional safety tips, even in areas not under restrictions:

• Dispose of cigarette butts in an ashtray or other appropriate container.

• Make sure chainsaws and other internal-combustion engines have approved, working spark arresters. Carry water, a shovel and fire extinguisher with you and operate within areas clear of flammable materials.

• Park vehicles in areas clear of vegetation.

• In higher-elevation areas where backcountry campfires are allowed, use established fire rings in areas clear of vegetation. Have a shovel and water handy, and put campfires out completely every time you leave camp. Pour water on the ashes and stir until there is no smoke and ashes are cool to the touch. Or, consider using a camp stove.

• Remember that fireworks are never allowed on federal lands, even where restrictions are not in place.

Exemptions to the Stage 1 restrictions include authorized activities of any federal, state or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or firefighting effort in the performance of an official duty. Additionally, holders of valid BLM permits, leases and authorizations are allowed to conduct approved activities, but are advised to take extra precautions to prevent fire starts.

The closure order and maps depicting the restriction boundaries for the SJNF are available at San Juan National Forest offices and on the Web at: www.fs.usda.gov/sanjuan.

Tribal lands

The Southern Ute Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs has downgraded restrictions due to recent precipitation that has improved the previously dry fuel conditions within the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

So far this summer, there have been 37 fires on the Southern Ute Reservation. Currently, Southern Ute fire personnel are available for dispatch to local, regional and national fire incidents.

randi@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on July 18, 2013.