County, national forests implement fire restrictions

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

Archuleta County and area forests are under fire restrictions.

Stage 1 fire restrictions went into effect on all private lands in unincorporated Archuleta County at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 20.

The restrictions do not apply to the Town of Pagosa Springs, tribal lands or national forest, according to Archuleta County Undersheriff Derek Woodman.

Stage I fire restrictions were initiated on May 11 for all trust lands throughout the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. 

The San Juan National Forest (SJNF) and Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) have also put fire restrictions in place. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) unanimously passed a resolution that states the following acts are prohibited, beginning Wednesday morning, until further notice:

• “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. The fire restrictions do not include charcoal fires in suitable containers or gas grills for barbecues at private residences or fires within designated campground pits with protective grates,” the resolution reads.

• Agricultural burning. “Burning of crop land, fields, rangeland, debris burning, slash piles, prescribed burning and weed burning are prohibited.”

• “Using explosive material (i.e., fireworks, blasting caps, or any incendiary device which may result in the ignition of flammable material). The fire restrictions do not include local community fireworks displays that have been, or may be, approved and permitted by the Archuleta [County] Sheriff.”

• “Operating or using any internal combustion engine is prohibited unless it is equipped with a working spark-arresting device.”

• Smoking is limited to vehicles, buildings, developed recreational areas or 3-foot-wide areas clear of vegetation.

Cutting and welding operations must have 40 pounds worth of fire extinguishers or a pressurized water supply immediately available.

The resolution states the fire restrictions shall remain in effect until amended or rescinded by either Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez or the BoCC.

“We don’t need a fire on top of everything else that’s going on,” Commissioner Steve Wadley said during Tuesday’s meeting. “It has been dry, we’ve had very little rain so we need to take whatever action is pertinent to keeping the community safe. The last thing we can afford is fighting fires right now.”

The full resolution can be read at http://www.archuletacounty.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/8064?fileID=6489 or by clicking the link in the BoCC’s May 19 regular meeting agenda, which is posted on the county’s website.

Pagosa Springs Town Manager Andrea Phillips outlined what the town will most likely do regarding fire restrictions in an email Tuesday morning.

“We typically follow what the County is doing in terms of fire restrictions, considering the recommendation of the Emergency Manager and/or Sheriff and also the Pagosa Fire Protection District … So, we will likely bring our own restrictions ordinance to Council for consideration if the Commissioners pass one-especially if it goes to Stage 2. We also consider what the SJ national forest is doing as well,” she wrote.

SJNF restrictions

Fire restrictions slightly stricter than Stage 1 are in place in SJNF, with additional restrictive measures expected to be implemented as the weather heats up.

“Igniting, building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, including charcoal grills and barbecues, coal and wood-burning stoves, and sheepherder’s stoves” is prohibited in SJNF, according to a press release issued Wednesday.

Smoking in the SJNF, except within an enclosed vehicle, trailer or building, is also prohibited.

Esther Godson, public affairs officer for the SJNF, explained the national forest’s fire restrictions are a little more strict than Stage 1 restrictions.

“It’s actually like a 1 1/2 because there’s absolutely no fire allowed, whereas typically with Stage 1 you could still have a fire in a campground ring,” Godson said, adding, “The trajectory is that our fire restrictions will likely be increasing because of how our weather prediction is looking to be hotter and dryer.”

Some other safety and responsibility guidelines in the SJNF are highlighted in the press release, which include:

• Stay 6 feet apart from others.

• Stay close to home to keep other communities safe.

• Prepare for limited or no services, such as restroom facilities and garbage collection.

The Pagosa Ranger District will begin opening specific developed recreation sites starting tomorrow, May 22, according to the press release.

More information can be found at https://www.fs.usda.gov/sanjuan/ or by calling the Pagosa Ranger District at 264-2268.

RGNF restrictions

According to a Tuesday press release, the RGNF has implemented Stage 2 fire restrictions, which began Wednesday.

Gregg Goodland, public affairs officer for the RGNF, explained the difference between Stage 1 and Stage 2 fire restrictions in a phone call Wednesday.

“The primary difference that really the public wants to know is that between Stage 1 and Stage 2 you cannot have campfires [in] the developed recreation sites,” he said.

Goodland noted that the restrictions don’t change much for the RGNF as all the national forest’s developed recreation sites are currently closed, though a decision on when to reopen them is expected to be made today.

The press release states that Stage 2 fire restrictions prohibit:

• Using a fire, including fires in developed recreation sites and fires in charcoal grills, barbecues and wood burning stoves.

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

• Welding or operating an acetylene torch with an open flame.

• Using explosives.

• “Possessing or using a motor vehicle off established roads, motorized trails or established parking areas, except when parking in an area devoid of vegetation within 10 feet of the vehicle.”

• Fireworks are prohibited year-round on all federal lands.

“The normal San Luis Valley conditions for the spring are pretty windy over here and our trend is looking pretty grim,” Goodland said of the weather forecast for the area.

The full Stage 2 fire restrictions order from the RGNF can be viewed at https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/riogrande/home.

 

This story was posted on May 21, 2020.