Federal fire restrictions remain in place

Ryan Hoffman

Federal fire restrictions implemented in Garfield County last week will likely remain in effect at least through the end of the week starting Aug. 8.

The stage 1 restrictions, which prohibit fires outside of developed areas and include other limitations, extend to Bureau of Land Management-administered lands in the county. They were implemented Friday as the area experiences prolonged dry conditions following a wet spring, and as the summer monsoonal season has yet to dump the necessary moisture.

Although the National Weather Service Grand Junction office issued a special statement Tuesday warning of widespread rainfall in western Colorado Thursday and Friday, David Boyd, public affairs specialist with the BLM’s Northwest Colorado District, said more sustained moisture is needed to decrease the high level of fire danger in the county.

BLM bases fire restriction decisions on science, including moisture measurements in vegetation and other factors. It considers data, which in the case of Garfield County goes back around 40 years, to determine the severity of conditions. Restrictions are put in place once conditions hit the 90th percentile for driest days, essentially meaning that conditions on the ground qualify in the top 10 percent for driest days over the course of the 40 years of data, Boyd said.

“We only go into restrictions when conditions are extreme.”

Under the stage 1 restrictions, campfires are allowed only within designated fire grates in developed campgrounds — fire pans and rock campfire rings are not acceptable. Fires of any type, including charcoal, are prohibited outside of developed areas.

Smoking is acceptable only within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or in a barren area free of vegetation.

Welding and use of an open-torch flame is prohibited outside of areas that have been cleared of vegetation, and all internal combustion engines must have a working spark arresting device.

Use of explosive materials also is prohibited.

Violating the restrictions is punishable by a fine of as much as $100,000, a prison sentence of no more than 12 months or both, according to BLM.

Fire restriction decisions come down to local conditions.

Aside from BLM land in Garfield County, the BLM Grand Junction Field Office implemented fire restrictions on July 22, as did all of Mesa County.

However, the White River National Forest has not initiated restrictions, nor had BLM for lands in Eagle and Pitkin counties. While conditions in those places are not as extreme, particularly in the high country, fire danger is still high, Boyd said.

BLM continues to monitor conditions, but Boyd said some sustained moisture is needed before restrictions will be lifted.

The agency does not want fluctuating situations where restrictions go off and on, Boyd said, while noting the unusual circumstance this year.

The last time fire restrictions were implemented in Garfield County was 2013. That year the restrictions were lifted on July 29 — the same day they were implemented this year.

Usually by this time in the summer the area is saved by the heavy monsoon rains, but that has not happened this year, which Boyd said was on par with some of the worst fire seasons in recent years.

Between Saturday and Tuesday, the Grand Junction Interagency Wildland Fire Dispatch Center logged 10 brush fires in its incident report. Most were contained to less than an acre.

Crews have stayed busy this summer, but have mostly been able to catch and aggressively attack fires before they’ve grown large, Boyd said.

Strategic placement of resources also have helped. Boyd referenced the Houston Mountain Fire that started at the end of June southwest of Rifle. Aircrafts and the presence of an Interagency Hotshot Crew helped limit the growth of that fire.

While more dangerous conditions could lead to stage 2 restrictions, which would mean no campfires anywhere on BLM land, Boyd said those are fairly rare and, based on current conditions and the most recent forecasts, unlikely at the moment.

“You never know, but we expect to start getting some moisture,” he said. “And we haven’t seen anything to suggest getting up to stage 2.”

That moisture could come at the end of this week, when the National Weather Service warns rainfall could exceed an inch an hour in stronger storms.

Sunny and cooler conditions are expected enter the area following the weekend.

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