Local officials oppose statewide burn ban

2020/04/page-1-reservoir-hill-fire-thursday-SMP_4478-300x200.jpg SUN photo/Shari Pierce
Firefighters with the Pagosa Fire Protection District work to quickly contain a fire that had gotten out of control on Reservoir Hill on April 9.

By John Finefrock

Staff Writer

Archuleta County and the Pagosa Fire Protection District (PFPD) officials have publicly opposed a statewide burn ban in separate communications to Gov. Jared Polis.

On April 3, the Colorado State Fire Chiefs submitted a request to Polis asking for a six-month statewide ban on all outdoor burning, agricultural burns and recreational fires, to be implemented by executive order.

In a phone call Wednesday, PFPD Chief Randy Larson explained the fire chiefs’ rationale to ask for the burn ban was public health, in that open burning could compromise air quality and that there could be a potential shortage of firefighters due to quarantines that stem from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an April 10 email to Polis, Larson wrote that, despite the request, not all fire chiefs are on board with a potential burn ban.

“I would like to ask for you to consider NOT placing a State-wide burn ban in effect,” Larson wrote. “After much consideration and listening to the State Fire Chief’s call on Monday there are many Fire Chief’s that are against taking away the local control concerning open burning. While I respect the severity of the COVID 19 situation I must also consider the threat to my community.”

At the county commissioners’ work session on Tuesday, commissioners Ron Maez and Alvin Schaaf also came out against a statewide burn ban.

“I’m not in favor of a burn ban in Archuleta County yet,” Maez said. “Right now is the time that people are cleaning up and burning out their ditches and getting their agricultural set up ... Now’s the time to do that instead of doing it in June or mid-June or late May. We’d have more problems and a bigger hazard then.”

“There is no health and safety aspect of doing a statewide burn ban,” Schaaf said, adding, “It’s just an overreach of the state government, in my opinion.”

Archuleta County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Director Mike Le Roux explained the position of the sheriff’s department, which includes the EOC, at the meeting.

“We don’t feel that we want to go with a statewide burn ban. We want to keep that local control. We agree that the volume of smoke that we put out with the pile burns and the burns is not enough at this point to compromise air quality,” Le Roux said, adding,“Last week we had two fires, ag burns that got out of hand, got beyond what those people burning could control. So while I’m against putting in a ban, definitely we have to be considerate of the resources that we have when there are more at home.”

On Tuesday night, Larson gave an update on the burn ban at the PFPD Board of Directors’ meeting.

Larson reported that earlier in the day he learned that Polis would not institute a statewide burn ban via executive order and instead is leaving the decision to be made at the county level.

He explained his rationale for opposing a statewide ban.

“We would rather go ahead and let people do their burning now while the fuels are moist, our fuel moistures are high and our temperatures are low,” Larson said. “We wait six months and our fuel moisture will be low and our temperatures will be high ... I do not see us going into a burn ban anytime soon because of situation.”

On Wednesday, Maez and Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez both signed a letter to Polis that opposes a statewide burn ban.

“While we appreciate the impact that COVID-19 has on our overextended resources, we are also planning for a potentially dry fire season in an area of the State with already limited initial attack resources,” the letter reads. “We are strong proponents for any mitigation that can be done safely and responsibly during the statewide stay-at-home order. In a time where more homeowners are present at their residence, we believe that the opportunities for fuel mitigation utilizing fire, significantly reduces the consequences and potential for wildfires in our forests ...”

In an informational release Tuesday night, the PFPD outlined the updated guidance it received from the governor.

The informational release states that the decision for burn bans will be left to each Colorado county to “make the best decision for their area and communities.”

“Currently, there are no burn restrictions in place other than the standard compliance regulations issues as part of a burn permit,” the release from the PFPD states.

Burn permits

An open burning fire permit is required for all open burning conducted within the boundaries of the PFPD.

More information, including a burn permit application, can be found at https://pagosafire.org/permits-fees/.