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Fire danger a concern for Memorial Day weekend, and beyond

By Ann Bond
Special to The SUN

The Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center reports that fire danger is increasing on public lands as southwestern Colorado heads into the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Not only has this spring been relatively dry, but last fall was very dry, which has resulted in low soil moisture and vegetation at lower and middle elevations already drying out.

“Even with our recent rains, it will take a substantial amount of moisture to pull us out of drought conditions,” said Justin Kincaid, U.S. Forest Service/BLM hazardous fuels specialist. “The fire danger forecast is calling for average temperatures but drier than average precipitation for the foreseeable future.”

Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch reports that federal crews have already responded to several wildfires already this spring, including both lightning and human caused. All district offices are staffed to cover the more than two million acres of the San Juan National Forest and BLM Tres Rio Field Office.  A single engine air tanker, lead plane and Type II helicopter are prepositioned at the Durango Interagency Air Tanker Base, with helicopters also stationed at Mesa Verde National Park and the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

Although fire restrictions are not yet in place on federal lands, there are several things visitors can do to help prevent fires:

• Remove all vegetation and debris from within 10 feet before you start a campfire.  Reconsider if you want to use a campfire during windy conditions.

• Make sure that you have a bucket of water, shovel and other implements nearby in case your campfire starts to get out of control.

• Never leave a campfire unattended. Stir water and dirt into the coals with a shovel or stick until the coals are cool to the touch whenever you leave it.

• Extinguish smoking materials only in cleared areas free of vegetation or debris. Never toss cigarette butts out the car window.

• Do not park cars or recreational vehicles over dry vegetation. Exhaust systems can reach temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees; hot enough to start a wildfire.

• Use approved spark arresters on off-road vehicles and chainsaws. Check and replace spark arresters periodically.

• Remember that fireworks are illegal on federal lands. The penalty for violators is a maximum of six months in prison and/or $5,000 fine. Those found responsible for starting a wildfire may also be held responsible for the cost of putting it out and for damage caused.

To report a fire, call 911 or contact the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center at 385-1324.

This story was posted on May 23, 2013.