DENVER – People won’t be able to have fires outside of permanent fire pits across many parts of Colorado starting this week, as Stage 1 fire restrictions go into effect.
The Bureau of Land Management announced Wednesday that its lands in Grand, Jackson, Eagle, Summit, Larimer, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, along with BLM lands in the Kremmling, White River and Little Snake field office areas, were under Stage 1 restrictions as of Wednesday because of the ongoing drought, high temperatures and dry lightning.
Under Stage 1 restrictions, people cannot have fires of any type outside of approved permanent fire pits and grates. People are also prohibited from using explosives, including targets, smoking outside of a vehicle or barren area, using a chainsaw not outfitted with a spark arrester, welding outside a closed area, using a firearm unless lawfully hunting, or using internal combustion engines without a spark arrester.
The BLM restrictions come in conjunction with Stage 1 fire restrictions going into effect in several National Forests in Colorado, as well as some towns and counties.
The Arapaho National Forest’s Stage 1 restrictions go into effect at noon Wednesday alongside the BLM’s and Grand County’s, where the East Troublesome Fire burned more than 193,000 acres last fall.
People who violate the fire restrictions can face fines of up to $5,000, and organizations up to $10,000, and possible jail time. In addition, anyone found to have caused a wildfire could be responsible for the firefighting costs.
“Vegetation across Grand County is rapidly drying out and the fire danger indices are already where they were when last year’s historic fires occurred,” said Cody Peel, the fire and aviation staff officer for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland.
The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, the San Juan National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland also entered Stage 1 fire restrictions Wednesday.
Pitkin and Eagle counties moved to Stage 1 restrictions Wednesday as well, and Summit and Garfield counties will move to Stage 1 restrictions just after midnight Friday.
“This decision was made with thoughtful consideration. We look at the data, as well as the potential for significant wildfires, and balance it with the impacts to our community,” Garfield County said in a news release. “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.”
Routt County's Stage 1 fire restrictions went into effect at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
“Routt County was primed for a large fire last summer,” Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said in a statement. “Fortunately for us, we didn’t see that. It was not because the fuels were not ready; they were, and the conditions were primed for it. But it was partly because weather cooperated, and then because the people of Routt County took extra steps to be extremely careful. That made it so we didn’t have human starts.”
Mesa County's Stage 1 restrictions go into effect Friday, the county said.
“We are starting off fire season worse off than last year. The stage is set for a potentially longer duration and more hazardous fire season,” said Mesa County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Services Director Andy Martsolf. “This year more than ever, we need the community’s help to prevent fires. Together we can significantly reduce human-caused fires by being proactive and cautious with activities that could ignite a wildfire.”
Stage 1 restrictions will go into effect Thursday in unincorporated San Miguel County and in the Telluride, Norwood, and Egnar Fire Protection Districts, the sheriff said Wednesday afternoon.
Summit County’s move on Friday comes after Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne enacted Stage 1 restrictions last week as the Straight Creek Fire burned between Silverthorne and the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels.
An excessive heat warning is in effect until midnight Friday for the Grand Valley, paradox Valley and Lower Dolores Valley, including Grand Junction, with temperatures of up to 100 to 110 degrees expected. Further south, in the San Juans, there could be some isolated thunderstorms on Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.
“However, fire starts from lightning and gusty outflow winds will remain the main threats under these unusually dry conditions,” the NWS in Grand Junction wrote in its daily forecast discussion Wednesday.
Grand Junction set a daily high of 103 degrees on Tuesday, breaking a record set in 1946. And Salt Lake City tied its all-time record high Wednesday of 107 degrees.
While the eastern half of Colorado was drought-free as of last week, the western half has seen scant precipitation for most of the year. Nearly all of Colorado west of the Continental Divide is seeing some sort of drought conditions, with nearly 30% of the state – nearly all of the Western Slope – is seeing extreme or exceptional drought.
In April, Colorado wildfire prevention officials said the state should expect another year of intense wildfires because of the ongoing drought, adding that fires would likely be seen on the majority of the Western Slope by July.
The early fire restrictions come after last year’s fire season, which saw the three largest wildfires in state history burn north of Grand Junction, in Grand County and in Larimer County.