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Garfield County enacts fire ban to avoid COVID-19 explosion

A controlled burn went out of control in Garfield County on Friday, burning 20-30 acres. Photo courtesy of the Garfield County Sheriff's Office
Garfield County Sheriff’s Office/Provided

Garfield County is under stage 1 fire restrictions starting Wednesday, April 15.

It’s rare for stage 1 restrictions to go into effect in mid-April. Parts of the county are on the dry side, but the fire restrictions are more about avoiding the spread of COVID-19 than stopping wildfires.

“We’re kind of doing it more because of this unique thing with COVID-19,” Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said.

The restrictions come after a number of controlled burns have gotten out of hand in recent weeks.

“It seems like lately, almost one a day for the past few days, we’ve had a controlled burn, so to speak, get out of control fairly significantly,” Vallario said.

Some of the fires have burned multiple acres, and a few took down small structures, Vallario said.

If emergency crews are busy putting out small fires, they might not be available to answer medical calls.

“We want our firefighters, our EMTs and first responders not to be so stressed having to deal with fires that we can’t deal with medical calls,” Vallario said.

With so many small fires requiring responses, the local fire districts can easily become overburdened, which would require seeking help from other fire agencies.

Firefighters are also supposed to enact social distancing measures, which may be difficult to do when fighting fires.

Joining the county in the stage 1 restrictions are the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management’s Colorado River Valley Field Office, and agencies within Garfield County. The city of Glenwood Springs will enact stage 1 restrictions beginning Friday.

Stage 1 restrictions mean previously authorized burn permits are canceled or postponed until further notice, and fires may only be started in developed campsites and fire pits.

Even agricultural burns that usually don’t require authorization must be permitted under stage 1. Vallario said the county will not be issuing permits even for agriculture burns at this time.

All fires in undeveloped areas — places where grass and shrubs are untrimmed, including open spaces — are also prohibited.

Smoking outside designated areas is also not allowed under the restrictions, as is the use of exploding ammunition and targets.

The restrictions are being put into place partially due to the strain on first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have already enacted fire restrictions in nearby public lands.

tphippen@postindependent.com


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