County Joins Forest Service, BLM in Implementing Stage I Fire Ban

Ongoing drought conditions in southwestern Colorado have resulted in Stage I fire restrictions which have been implemented on public lands by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Hinsdale County Commissioners followed suit starting at noon on Wednesday, May 30, when they met in special session to adopt Stage I fire regulations in unincorporated areas of the county, mirroring restrictions already in place by the F.S. and BLM.
The county resolution states in part, “…the Board has determined that currently the danger of forest and grass fires in all of unincorporated Hinsdale County is high at this time and fire restrictions are necessary and appropriate in all unincorporated Hinsdale County” in the interest of public health, safety and welfare.
For the duration of the fire ban, the restrictions prohibit all open burning and recreational campfires other than those campfires — flames no greater than 2’ — which are contained within permanent in-ground fire pits surrounded by metal or other fire-proof material.
Lake City Fire Chief Bill Hagendorf attended Wednesday’s special commissioners’ meeting and stated that in addition to fire-proof material surrounding existing in-ground fire pits, campfires must be attended at all times and a method of extinguishing — such as a garden hose or shovel and dirt — must always be close at hand.
Campfires are restricted to only metal, in-ground containment structures with grills. Use of charcoal barbeque grills or stoves is prohibited; use of manufactured liquid-fuel and propane grills is allowed, as are chiminea-type manufactured enclosures on private property.
Although Town of Lake City is not specifically cited in the county fire ban, town regulations per municipal code automatically apply within the town boundaries to be enforced by county sheriff’s office personnel.
Under normal, non-drought circumstances, open burning of refuse is allowed in the town and county after applying for a burn permit.
Hinsdale County Undersheriff Justin Casey stated that under the ban, burn permits are no longer being issued and individuals or business with a permit issued prior to the Stage I regulations are being notified that their permits are no longer valid.
Undersheriff Casey attended Wednesday morning’s commission meeting to urge the county board to closely mirror existing F.S. and BLM fire
restrictions in order to prevent “public confusion.” Federal and now county burn restrictions also preclude all smoking other than within an enclosed vehicle or building, or in developed recreation areas or barren areas free of vegetation; a properly installed and maintained spark arrestor is required on chainsaws; chainsaw operators are also required to have a chemical fire extinguisher 8-ounce or greater capacity with minimum 2A rating kept close at hand, together with a round-point shovel with overall length of at least 35”.
Explosive targets and fireworks are also now banned under the Stage I restrictions. Welding or use of an acetylene or other torch with open flame is not allowed on public lands except in cleared areas at least 10’ diameter and again with chemical pressurized fire extinguisher.
Wednesday’s prompt action by Hinsdale County Commissioners follows similar restrictions which have been implemented in National Forests and many counties throughout the region.
Archuleta County, bordering the South End of Hinsdale County, was among the first local counties to implement Stage I fire precautions on May 1 and with the ongoing lack of rain upgraded the fire ban to Stage II on May 29.
Rio Grande National Forest, including the upper Rio Grande in Hinsdale County, announced a Stage I ban effective May 21.
Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, together with Bureau of Land Management’s Gunnison Field Office covering lands in Gunnison, Hinsdale, Saguache and San Juan counties, acted in tandem on May 29 in announcing implementation of Stage I restrictions.
As a brief explanation of the incremental severity of fire ban restrictions, Luke Odom of Colorado Division Fire Protection and Control offers the following:
Stage I restrictions occur in the midst of increasing fire danger and are described as “relatively minor” with the aim of averting the start of wildfires based on human activity that are known to be high risk, specifically smoking and campfires.
Stage II intensifies restrictions while focusing specifically on activities which are high risk of causing the start of a fire, including building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire; smoking except in a vehicle or building; possessing or discharging any type of fireworks; explosives; use of a chainsaw or other equipment powered by an internal combustion engine between 1 p.m. and 1 a.m.; welding; operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame; using a motor vehicle off the Forest Service road system except when in developed campgrounds and trailheads, or parked in areas devoid of vegetation within 10’ of the roadway.
Stage III, the most severe fire restrictions, preclude all public access to designated areas with certain exemptions.