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Stage 1 fire restrictions extended to federal lands ahead of July 4th weekend

The Fourth of July holiday weekend will see Stage 1 fire restrictions expanded to include all lands managed by the White River National Forest, as well as federal lands in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

According to a joint Forest Service/BLM press release, restrictions were already put in place during June for private lands within all of the fire protection districts in Garfield County, and within Glenwood Springs city limits.

On Thursday, Pitkin and Eagle counties joined in implementing the first-stage fire restrictions for private lands.

Nearby Mesa and Summit counties, including the Dillon Ranger District and BLM lands in Summit County, and BLM lands managed by the Grand Junction Field Office, were also already under Stage 1 fire restrictions.

Those restrictions include:

  • Campfires are only allowed within designated metal, in-ground fire grates in developed campgrounds (fire pans and rock campfire rings are not acceptable)
  • No fires of any type, including charcoal, outside of developed areas
  • No smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or in a barren area free of vegetation
  • No use of explosive materials, including explosive targets
  • No welding or operation of an acetylene or other similar torch with open flame, except in an area that has been cleared of vegetation
  • No operation of any internal combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed and in working order

Fireworks use is never allowed on federal land, even those types of fireworks that are legal to purchase in Colorado, according to the release.

Although conditions vary across the area, a longer-term drying trend is expected, public lands fire management officials said.

“Fire restrictions are prudent at this time given the long-range forecast, the continued high public visitation, and the extra precautions needed this year with the pandemic,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said in the release. 

Added BLM Colorado River Valley Field Manager Larry Sandoval, “As conditions dry, we are seeing more human-caused fires across the area.”

Sandoval also issued a reminder to visitors using developed areas where campfires are permitted to ensure camp fires are completely out before leaving.

According to the release, officials consider a number of criteria when determining the need for fire restrictions, including current and anticipated fire danger, resource availability, and consistency with neighboring jurisdictions.

Local, county, state and federal officials within the Upper Colorado River fire management area evaluate and coordinate fire restrictions weekly during fire season.

Garfield County reinstates Stage 1 fire restrictions

The Garfield County Sheriff, along with the county’s seven fire districts, have implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions effective Friday.

The restrictions apply to all of unincorporated parts of Garfield County. Stage 1 restrictions are also in effect in many municipalities, including Glenwood Springs.

“This decision was not made without thoughtful consideration,” the Sheriff’s Office states in a news release announcing the return to fire restrictions. The county had lifted the fire ban in late May after they had been in effect through the early spring.

“We look at the data, the potential for significant wildfires and balance it with the impacts to our community,” the release states. “Our concern, with the level of fire danger we are seeing; one spark could quickly spread into a dangerous wildfire threatening lives, property and natural resources.

According to the release, fire restrictions are implemented based on specific criteria, including moisture content of vegetation, weather outlooks, human risk factors and firefighting resource availability.

Recent hot, dry and windy weather was also a factor in the decision.

“So far this year, we’ve had 15 ‘red flag warnings,’ which is more than what we typically see over an entire year,” the release states. “The National Weather Service is forecasting above average temperatures and dry conditions with no relief from rain anytime soon.

“With increasingly dry vegetation, severe drought conditions, and Fourth of July celebrations approaching, the danger for human-caused wildfires increases even more.”

WHAT STAGE I FIRE RESTRICTIONS MEAN IN GARFIELD COUNTY

• Fireworks are not allowed under Stage I Fire Restrictions. Professional fireworks shows may be allowed through the permitting process.

• All open burn permits are postponed/canceled until further notice.

• Campfires are only allowed within designated fire grates in developed (irrigated) areas, such as a permanent in-ground containment structure or store-bought fire pit. A temporary fire pan and rock campfire rings are not acceptable.

• No fires of any type, including charcoal, in undeveloped (wild) areas.

• No smoking except within a designated area, enclosed vehicle or building, a developed area or in an area free of combustibles.

• No use of fireworks or explosive materials, including “exploding” targets or bullets and tracer rounds.

• Exercise common sense and industry safety practice when welding or operation of an acetylene or other similar torch with open flame always cleared safe area of vegetation and combustibles.

Penalties

Causing a fire during fire restrictions can be a class 6 felony and can be punishable by fines. Other possible charges include Fourth Degree Arson (M2) and Intentionally Setting a Wildfire (F3). You may also be held financially responsible for damage caused.

Federal lands

The use of fireworks, flares or other incendiary devices, including exploding targets, are always prohibited on Federal lands.

Source: Garfield County Sheriff

Glenwood Canyon construction milestones mean project is right on track

Travelers driving through Glenwood Canyon construction can breathe a sigh of relief: head-to-head traffic on Interstate 70 is no longer in place Friday afternoons through Sunday.

Rather than sharing one side of the highway, traffic will have access to one lane on both east and westbound routes.

The change starts today for the $15.7 million project, which incorporates state-of-the-art road surface materials, bridge revitalization and rest area ADA accessibility upgrades. Head-to-head traffic will be in place Mondays through 1 p.m. Fridays. This comes a week after the Grizzly Creek and Shoshone turnouts reopened to motorists heading west toward Glenwood Springs without detouring further east.

One unique challenge this year is keeping projects moving forward while minimizing the spread of COVID-19. 

“We’re really fortunate that this is not slowing us down,” she said. “We are following guidelines from the state for construction, which means social distancing as much as possible and wearing masks pretty much all the time or whenever possible.”

The project is currently slated for completion in October.

“We’re right on track,” said Elise Thatcher, Colorado Department of Transportation’s communications manager for Northwest Colorado. “One of the great things about this project is that we’re using a polyester concrete overlay, which is essentially a top layer of roadway that will last quite a bit longer.”

Sturdier materials means a similar project is unlikely to be necessary for quite some time, which was an important consideration for CDOT in undertaking the multi-phase project.

“The timing and phasing of this project was designed to accomplish work as efficiently and as early as possible,” CDOT Project Engineer Josh Cullen said in a news release. “We are very grateful for everyone’s patience so far and look forward to completing the next steps to deliver these important infrastructure improvements.”

Crashes and delays so far

Sundays are typically the worst day for delays through the construction zone, Thatcher said. CDOT records show nearly 36 hours of full or partial road closures due to severe wrecks between mile markers 116 and 133 from April 22 to June 9. 

During that time period, CDOT logged 11 severe traffic incidents, one of which was fatal. The longest closure lasted nearly 11 hours May 15, stemming from a multi-vehicle crash.

Slow down to arrive sooner

Typically, travelers should budget an extra 20 minutes to travel through the canyon, Thatcher said, but delays can vary throughout the weekend. Thatcher said motorists should obey the speed limit and drive cautiously. Doing so decreases the potential for a full or partial closure of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon.

“We understand life is stressful right now, and the last thing you want to do is go through a construction zone,” Thatcher said. “(But) if we can keep everything moving slowly, then we’re hoping to reduce the delays on Sundays that much more.”

Call before you hit the road

Recognizing the importance of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon in accessing some of Colorado’s natural splendor, CDOT provides a hotline for motorists: 970-618-5379. Travelers can give it a ring or text before heading through the Canyon for the most up-to-date travel info — provided by an actual human, Thatcher said.

“We really encourage that anyone call that (number) if they need to get the latest information,” she said. “We’ve got a live person on the other end, and that’s not that common these days with hotlines, so be sure to take advantage of it.”

pbaumann@postindependent.com

Carbondale Red Hill trail reopening likely another month out, as road construction progress is slowed by large boulders

Hiking and mountain biking enthusiasts will have to wait a few weeks longer for the popular Red Hill Recreation Area trails near Carbondale to reopen, as new road and parking lot construction continues.

Carbondale Public Works Director Kevin Schorzman said Thursday that, because of the size of rocks that construction crews have encountered while dismantling the old roadway, the project has taken longer than expected.

“They have been running into boulders bigger than most of us anticipated under that old road, and it has taken a lot more time to dig those out and break them up,” Schorzman said.

The rock pieces are being used for rip-rap to stabilize the embankment above the new, more direct Garfield County Road 107 route that accesses residential neighborhoods east of the Red Hill trail network, he explained.

Originally, project officials had expected a four- to six-week trailhead closure when the work began May 18.

Monday will mark six weeks, and Schorzman said it’s looking like another four weeks at this point before the trails can reopen.

The project is being jointly funded by the town of Carbondale and Garfield County, with cooperation from the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Land Management. The Red Hill Recreation Area is on BLM land.

An aerial rendering shows the newly aligned Garfield County Road 107 and two gravel parking lots below the Red Hill Recreation Area.
Courtesy Town of Carbondale/DHM Design

Once completed, the project will include:

  • A straighter approach from CR 107 to state Highway 82, allowing for a dedicated turn lane.
  • Two new parking lots to the north and west of the intersection; a lower lot for commuter ride-sharing and an upper lot for direct trailhead access, doubling the previous parking capacity.
  • Reduction in pedestrian/vehicle conflicts on the road.

Last week, traffic to and from the residential areas was diverted onto a temporary switchback road while the old roadbed is being dismantled, Schorzman said.

Project officials are also hoping to complete a pedestrian trail to connect the gravel lower and upper parking lots for easier foot access to the trailhead, he said.

“It will be easier to do that now, instead of waiting,” Schorzman said.

While the parking lots will have signs designating them for commuter and trail used, it’s likely that weekend trail users will be able to have overflow parking in the lower lot when there’s less demand for ride-sharing use, he said.

A street-level rendering shows the newly aligned Garfield County Road 107 and two gravel parking lots at left.
Courtesy Town of Carbondale/DHM Design

In the meantime, commuters are still advised to use alternative park-and-ride lots at the town-owned parking lot just east of Town Hall on Colorado Avenue, and at the rodeo grounds east of town.

Other than some landscaping work, once the trailhead reopens there should not be any construction activity taking place, Schorzman said.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Imagine Glenwood to install banner in Sayre Park on Tuesday

Imagine Glenwood will be installing a 7-foot wide banner of Take A Minute/Slow Down in Town near the gazebo in Sayre Park, 1702 Grand Ave., at 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to a news release from the group.

The banner will honor the ideas of originator Terri Partch, City Engineer for Glenwood Springs.

Local Scouts will assist with the installation of the banner. The frame for the banner was made possible by the City of Glenwood Springs and orchestrated by Dan Roper, according to the release.

Imagine Glenwood asks that attendees Take a Minute and show their support for its ongoing effort, and to please be mindful of the responsibilities of social distancing at the event.

Winds take out large section of blue heron rookery by Ironbridge Golf Course

High winds that blew through the Roaring Fork Valley recently took out a portion of a long-established great blue heron rookery along the Roaring Fork River near the Ironbridge neighborhood.

River users who frequent the area south of Glenwood Springs reported the downed tree to Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials this week, and District Wildlife Manager John Groves was out to inspect things on Wednesday evening and again Thursday.

Groves said the top half of one of the big old ponderosa pines that line the river in that stretch broke off and fell into the water, trapping and killing several near-fledgling birds that occupied at least four nests in that particular tree.

“When I went out there (Wednesday) night, I found one still alive in the river and pulled it out,” Groves said. “A bunch of others had made it back up into the brush out of the river.”

Numerous adult birds were also still in the area. Groves said wildlife officials will let nature take its course, and hopefully the parents birds can be reunited with the young that survived.

“As far as rehabbing a heron, that’s pretty difficult,” he said. “It’s probably been about a month since they hatched out, so they were pretty close to fledgling and learning to fly at this point.”

Groves said there are at least three or four more trees along that stretch that still have active nests, so it wasn’t a total loss.

“Over time, this particular heronry has kind of spread out along the river as other trees have died,” Groves said.

Blue herons do tend to spoil their own nesting sites over time, due to the weight of the large nests and bird excrement that builds up and can eventually kill the trees, he said.

Groves said there are about 10 other nesting sites along the Roaring Fork River from Ironbridge upstream to the area east of Carbondale, including several on the old Sanders Ranch parcel near Aspen Glen.

Two summers ago, another large ponderosa pine at Aspen Glen that had contained a bald eagle’s nest for decades also fell over into the river. The eagles had at that point abandoned that tree for another site farther upstream, Groves said.

The nesting sites along the river for both bald eagles and great blue heron have resulted in various protections being put in place as residential and golf course development has occurred, including at Ironbridge and Aspen Glen.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Glenwood expands fire restrictions to include private use of fireworks

Glenwood Springs has added the use of fireworks among the activities prohibited under the city’s Stage 1 fire restrictions.

The city’s move comes on the heels of Garfield County also prohibiting the private use of fireworks, legal or otherwise, in the unincorporated parts of the county through the July 4th holiday and until further notice.

The following fire restrictions are to be strictly enforced, according to a city news release issued Friday.

• Campfires are only allowed within designated fire grates in developed areas, such as a permanent in-ground containment structure or store-bought fire pit. A temporary fire pan or rock campfire ring is not acceptable.

• No fires of any type, including charcoal, in undeveloped areas (lands that are not groomed, manicured or watered, where grasses, brush and trees have been allowed to grow in a natural environment). Only natural gas or propane grills with a shut off valve shall be permitted.

• No smoking, except within a designated area, an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed area or in an area free of combustibles.

• No use of any explosives — all explosives are prohibited within city limits, including blasting caps, “exploding” targets, bullets, tracer rounds, model rockets, etc.)

• No use of fireworks, even those that can be purchased legally in Colorado.  The ignition and setting-off of all fireworks are prohibited.

• Hot work — exercise common sense and industry safety practices when welding or operation of an acetylene or other similar torch with open flame.

“These restrictions were made with consideration of the rapidly drying fuel sources, due to the high temperatures and high winds recently experienced in the area; in conjunction with the limited availability of resources to fight an expanding fire,” the new release states.

The Glenwood Springs Police Department will be strictly enforcing these fire restrictions, according to the release. Violations can be reported to the Glenwood Springs Police Department at 970-384-6500 or to the Garfield County non-emergency line at 970-625-8095. Violators will receive a summons into Municipal Court.

UPDATE: One dead, two injured in Highway 82 crash near Holland Hills

One person was killed and two others seriously injured in a two-vehicle crash Friday on Highway 82 near Holland Hills, authorities said.

The name of the deceased and the injured parties were not immediately available, said Undersheriff Ron Ryan.

Terry Cox, a division chief with Roaring Fork Fire Rescue, said there was one fatality in “what appeared to be a T-bone accident.” There were three people total involved in the accident. One person was taken in critical condition to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. Another patient was taken in urgent condition to Aspen Valley Hospital, then airlifted to Valley View, according to Cox.

Photos submitted from the scene show a T-bone crash, with one SUV resting in the eastbound lanes and the driver’s side smashed in and the other vehicle stopped in the downvalley lanes with its frontend smashed. Airbags were deployed in the SUV.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

Update: I-70 westbound reopens near Silt; traffic rerouted to Highway 6

Update at 7:18 p.m.: Interstate 70 is reopened to all traffic.

Original post: The “removal of a bulldozer” has caused Interstate 70 westbound to close at mile marker 97 near Silt, according to an alert from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.

The closure is expected to last about six hours.

This is a developing story; check back later for more information.

Garfield County’s fireworks use ban to now include 4th of July stretch

Garfield County commissioners have expanded a ban on the private use of fireworks in the unincorporated parts of the county to include the stretch of time leading up to and including the Fourth of July holiday.

Last month, the county took action to prohibit the use of fireworks, including those that can be purchased legally in Colorado, for the remainder of the year.

State law, however, excludes the period from May 31 through July 5, unless a county or municipality takes separate action to also ban fireworks during that time.

Commissioners waited until Monday before taking further action. With input from the county’s lead emergency management official and Sheriff Lou Vallario pointing to the increasing fire danger, commissioners agreed to put the ban in effect now through Sunday, July 5.

Several recent instances of small brush fires breaking out across the county are concerning, Chris Bornholdt, emergency manager for the county, said during the Monday commissioners meeting.

Those fires, including multiple ones in the Rifle area, were brought under control in relative short order, but removing fireworks as a potential fuel source as the fire danger increases would be helpful, he said.

“I’ve been amazed at the number of red flag warnings we’ve had recently,” Sheriff Vallario said of multiple recent dry, hot and windy days.

“The science definitely supports it,” he said of fire fuel conditions currently.

The county restriction applies to the use of fireworks by private citizens, but not the legal sale of fireworks in the county.

Also, any commercial vendors planning a fireworks display anywhere in unincorporated Garfield County (outside municipal boundaries) must receive approval from their local fire districts.

“Individuals should seek guidance from the municipalities in which they reside, regarding the use of fireworks within city limits,” according to a Tuesday press release from the Sheriff’s Office.

“These decisions were made considering the rapidly drying fuel sources, due to the high temperatures and high winds recently experienced in Garfield County; in conjunction with the limited availability of resources to fight an expanding fire,” the release stated.

The release also cited the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has necessitated extra firefighting precautions for the 2020 wildfire season.

Commissioners heard from one private fireworks sales vendor Monday, who disagreed with the decision.

“Don’t use COVID-19 as an excuse,” said Ray Cordova, who sets up a fireworks sales stand every year near Cattle Creek.

Cordova also said the ban causes confusion for prospective customers, since it applies to the use of fireworks, but not the sale.

The ban does not apply to the sale of fireworks considered legal in Colorado. However, anyone who purchases them is not allowed to used them anywhere a ban is in effect.

The broader Garfield County use ban extends through the end of the year, but could be rescinded at any time if conditions allow, Vallario said.

jstroud@postindependent.com