Fire restrictions extended to White River National Forest | PostIndependent.com

Fire restrictions extended to White River National Forest

Staff reports

Stage 1 fire restrictions will be expanded Friday morning to include the entire White River National Forest and Bureau of Land Management-administered lands in Summit, Eagle, and Pitkin Counties, and portions of Grand County adjacent to the Colorado River.

Fire restrictions are already in place for BLM lands in Garfield and Mesa counties, and on private lands in Garfield, Mesa, Eagle and Pitkin counties. The latest fire restrictions also include Trough Road southwest of Kremmling and the Dice Hill area south of Kremmling.

In addition, Colorado Mountain College has closed the disc golf course at Spring Valley in response to fire restrictions recently issued by the BLM and Garfield County.

"The course will be closed until further notice," according to a news release from the college. "The baskets have been removed and campus security has increased its rounds on the disc golf course to help ensure the safety of the CMC Spring Valley campus and the surrounding community."

Fire managers base decisions about fire restrictions on specific moisture measurements in vegetation and other risk factors such as predicted weather and amount of current fire activity.

The moisture content in vegetation changed so drastically between last week and this week that the Forest Service decided it must enact stage one fire restrictions, Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said Wednesday. The decision was made "an hour or two" before the Buffalo Mountain Fire broke out Tuesday in Summit County about 2 miles west of Silverthorne, he said.

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However, that fire, almost entirely in the White River National Forest, reinforced the decision, according to Fitzwilliams.

He noted that the Forest Service and partners undertook a vegetation management project in phases between 2010 and 2014 to thin timber on about 350 acres of national forest adjacent to subdivisions adjacent to Buffalo Mountain. The project created a buffer of about 200 to 250 feet around the houses.

"We would have lost a lot of homes if not for that," Fitzwilliams said. He stressed that he heard that from numerous firefighters who have been in the field.

He said he understands wariness of residents to see timber cuts, but the projects such as the one in Summit County play a critical role in safety.

"It was textbook, the way it worked," he said.

Fire officials have evacuated residents of an estimated 1,384 homes in Summit County. As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire had been limited to 91 acres but there was no containment.

The fire is burning at elevations ranging from 9,200 to 9,600 feet, indicating how dry it is throughout the White River National Forest, Fitzwilliams said.

"That's another one of the wake-up calls," he said.

The Forest Service is focused on spreading the word — a daunting task because there are so many trailheads and day use areas.

"We have armies of seasonal workers going around (to the various portals) posting signs," Fitzwilliams said. He has authorized overtime for the work to continue into the weekend.

"With social media it goes pretty quickly these days," he said of the awareness.

Anyone who ignores the restrictions is subject to a $250 fine, possibly more if their actions result in a fire.

The BLM, White River National Forest, and Summit, Eagle and Pitkin County Sheriff's Offices will be enforcing the following temporary restrictions:

• Campfires are only allowed within designated fire grates in developed campgrounds, such as a metal, in-ground containment structure – 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 from 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 are always prohibited on BLM, National Forest and National Park Service lands," federal land managers advise in a news release issued Wednesday morning.

"Fire restrictions on these lands will be in place until further notice," it said. "Those found responsible for starting wildfires will also face restitution costs of suppressing the fire."

Scott Condon from The Aspen Times contributed to this report.