County discusses moving to Stage 3 fire restrictions; Topic on agenda for Tuesday's meeting


By Chris Mannara

Staff Writer

With dry conditions persisting across Archuleta County, along with the potential for fires such as the 416 Fire in La Plata County, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) held a special work session on Friday morning to determine if the county needed to enter Stage 3 fire restrictions.

County Administrator Bentley Henderson began the work session by explaining that the BoCC had discussed a potential Stage 3 ban in Archuleta County.

“We’ve had conversations around this, kind of briefly, in the context of we don’t have that many public lands, so to speak, for people to hang out on,” Henderson said.

Due to San Juan Natural Forest’s closure, Henderson noted that it might make sense for Archuleta County to do the same sort of closure for its public lands.

“In our situation, if something starts on county land and migrates into the forest, we still own that. Is that a safe statement?” Henderson asked.

Mike Le Roux, Director of Emergency Operations for Archuleta County, noted that Henderson’s statement was correct.

“I don’t want to own a fire,” Commissioner Steve Wadley commented.

Le Roux presented the BoCC with an email listing some potential prohibitions and exemptions he would like to add for a possible Stage 3 restriction.

The potential prohibitions outlined by Le Roux under a Stage 3 are as follows:

• Use of indoor fireplaces and wood-burning stoves without an approved chimney spark arrestor.

• Use of recreational motor vehicles without an approved forest service spark arrestor.

• Discharging of firearms except where permitted by the Archuleta County Sheriff.

• Personal woodcutting.

• Private property timber contract operations/forestry mitigation and thinning operations.

Le Roux later noted within his email the possible external uses that may qualify for an exemption.

These exemptions would still require written authorization and discussion with Archuleta County staff.

The possible exemptions were listed as:

• Hot air balloon operation.

• Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad operation.

• Oil and gas operations.

• Access to ditches and other water right infrastructure.

“I think we don’t have the verbiage for a stage three because we’ve never been there,” Le Roux added. “I think we need to have something to follow, but I don’t think that it needs to be a shutdown or total stoppage of everything.”

The BoCC will be addressing this topic at its regular meeting on Tuesday, June 19, at 1:30 p.m. at the Archuleta County administration building in the commissioner’s meeting room at 390 Lewis Street.

Additional topics

Town Manager Andrea Phillips commented during the work session that the Town of Pagosa Springs has also considered closing Reservoir Hill due to fire danger.

“We’re in Stage 2 and, of course, canceled the fireworks, and we’ve been talking among staff about, you know, do we need to close Rez Hill?” Phillips explained. “Because Rez Hill is kind of scary.”

Phillips acknowledged that Reservoir Hill had been mitigated, but the area was still “pretty dense up there.”

“Unfortunately, a lot of those slash piles are still up there,” Pagosa Springs Police Chief Bill Rockensock commented.

Southwest Conservation Corps will be in Pagosa Springs to help remove some of the slash piles, Phillips noted.

“And the thing I look at is, OK, we may lose some revenue now, this summer. But if we allow, and then we have a huge potential big fire, we’re going to lose for 20 years,” Commissioner Ronnie Maez said. “Because all we have to sell is beauty and we got to do what we can to protect that.”