Fire season is not over

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RBC | Extreme drought and fire conditions continue to plague Northwest Colorado as we head into mid-autumn. According to Rio Blanco County Sheriff Anthony Mazzola, last week the Rio Blanco Fire Protection District responded to five human-start fires, four of which were allegedly started by hunters in the forest. 

“We are asking everyone to be extremely careful of using fire and mindful of the fire restrictions during these dry conditions,” Mazzola said via email, adding that the Sheriff’s Office will be adding additional patrols in the Routt and White River National Forests. (Routt National Forest is located on the eastern end of Rio Blanco County from the top of Ripple Creek Pass eastward.)

At this time, Rio Blanco County is in Stage 1 fire restrictions. Routt National Forest is in Stage 2 and considering Stage 3 — closing all forest activity. 

Every Tuesday, a joint meeting between multiple agencies evaluates fire conditions and makes appropriate recommendations for fire restrictions. 

The following conditions, according to a U.S. Forest Service press release. Indicates multiple counties — including Rio Blanco — are in severe drought, have extremely low fuel-moisture conditions, a high occurrence of human-caused wildfires, limited response capacity for multiple wildfires, and persistent fire-danger weather conditions with no immediate relief in the forecast. 

Hunters and recreationalists are asked to remember that fire restrictions apply to all visitors to the area, and are urged to check with local officials to see what restrictions are in place before they head out. 

Violating fire restrictions is punishable as a class B misdemeanor with a possible fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, and/or imprisonment. Anyone who negligently or willfully starts a wildland fire could be held responsible for the costs of that fire. 

For additional local information, please visit the Sheriff’s Office website (see “Fire Restrictions” at the top of the page) or Facebook page. 

STAGE 1 Restrictions (RIO BLANCO COUNTY)

PROHIBITIONS

• Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire except within agency-provided fire grates at developed recreation sites. Devices using gas, jellied petroleum, or pressurized liquid fuel are permitted.

• Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.

• Operating a chainsaw without a USDA or SAE approved spark arrestor properly installed and working, a chemical fire extinguisher of not less than 8 ounces capacity by weight, and one round point shovel with an overall length of at least 36 inches.

• Using a welder, either arc or gas, or operating acetylene or other torch with open flame, except in cleared areas of at least 10 feet in diameter with a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher of not less than 8 ounces capacity.

• Using exploding targets.

EXEMPTIONS

• Persons with a written permit that specifically authorizes the otherwise prohibited act.

• Persons conducting activities in those designated areas where the activity is specifically authorized by written posted notice.

• Any Federal, State, or local officer or member of an  organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.

STAGE 2 Restrictions (ROUTT COUNTY)

PROHIBITIONS

• Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire, charcoal grill, any type of charcoal fueled broiler, tiki torch, wood burning stove, sheepherders stove, or open fire of any type. These restrictions include developed camping and picnic grounds and private property. Fire devices using pressurized liquid or gas with shutoff valves are permitted when used in an area at least three feet or more from flammable material such as grasses, debris or pine needles. Fireplaces and wood burning stoves inside structures equipped with ember or spark arresters attached to chimneys are also exempted. 

• Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle, trailer, building or tent;

• Using an explosive requiring fuse or blasting caps, fireworks, rockets, firearms, exploding targets and tracers or incendiary ammunition;

• Operating a chainsaw, cutoff saw, or any other mechanical equipment without an approved spark arrestor and without chemical pressurized fire extinguisher (8 oz. capability by weight or larger and kept with the operator) and without one “O” or larger round point shovel with an overall length of at least 36 inches that is readily available for use;

• Welding, or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame (except with a current permit, contract or letter of authorization and the welding area must be barren or cleared of all flammable material for 10 feet on all sides of the equipment);

• Operating or using any internal combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed, maintained and in effective working order meeting either:                   

• Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Standard 5100-1a; or

• Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recommended practice J335(b) and J350(a). 

EXEMPTIONS

• Persons with a permit or letter of authorization specifically authorizing the prohibited act or omission.

• Any federal, state, or local officer or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.

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