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Garfield County bans fireworks in anticipation of dry summer

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Concerns about a second year of drought and the potential for high wildfire danger this summer prompted Garfield County commissioners to enact an ordinance Monday banning the use and sales of all fireworks in unincorporated parts of the county this year.

The ban could be revisited and possibly lifted in the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July holiday, if the moisture that has benefitted the region over the past month persists into June.

However, the long-term forecast still calls for the return of warm, dry weather through late spring and early summer.

With that is a strong likelihood for high fire danger as the summer season approaches, a trio of fire and emergency management officials advised county commissioners at their regular Monday meeting.

“Historically, the second or third year of a drought is when we see our big fires.”
Chris Bornholdt
emergency manager Garfield County Sheriff’s Office

“I look at the month of June, and it scares me,” said Mike Morgan, chief of the Colorado River Fire Rescue Authority.

“We dodged a bullet last year,” he said of the first summer of what’s expected to be a multi-year drought cycle based on a second straight winter of below-average snowpack, low moisture content in the area’s vegetation, and forecasts for persistent warm, dry conditions.

“Historically, the second or third year of a drought is when we see our big fires,” said Chris Bornholdt, emergency manager for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.

April storms did reduce the current drought conditions in the region from extreme to severe, he said.

“But, all it takes is a week of wind and 80-degree temperatures, and we’re right back where we were,” Bornholdt said.

“It is better to have (the ordinance) in place now, and withdraw it later if things change,” Bornholdt said in support of the fireworks ordinance.

The ordinance, approved by the commissioners on a 3-0 vote, prohibits the use and sale of fireworks that are normally permitted under state law.

An exception is given for the period between May 31 and July 5 to accommodate fireworks sales and use around the Fourth of July holiday. The commissioners will revisit the fire danger situation later this month to determine if the ban should remain in place during that period of time.

“There does have to be an express finding of high fire danger in order to put this ordinance into effect,” County Attorney Frank Hutfless said of the action Monday to enact the ordinance.

Follow-up action by the commissioners would be needed to extend the ban to the May 31-July 5 time frame, he said.

Sheriff Lou Vallario also supported the ordinance, given the current data pointing to another dangerous fire season.

“As we get close to that time frame, we could potentially reconsider it, and repeal it if we feel comfortable doing that,” he said. “This is better than being in the position we were in last year, where we didn’t have enough time to react.”

As the fire danger worsened in June last year, county officials came under criticism when a temporary fireworks sales stand opened along Highway 82 between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.

A fire that came close to burning homes in the Glenwood Park neighborhood was also blamed on sparklers. Although legally purchased, the use of fireworks had been banned by the city of Glenwood Springs at the time.

State law allows for any ordinance passed by counties related to fire and fireworks bans to be adopted by municipalities within that county, Hutfless said.

County fire and emergency preparedness officials are planning to meeting this afternoon at the Garfield County administration building in Glenwood Springs to discuss management and response plans for the upcoming fire season.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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