La Plata County commissioners unanimously lift fire restrictions

Thursday, July 19, 2018 3:42 PM
Though La Plata County has rescinded all fire restrictions, county commissioners still urge residents to use caution.

La Plata County commissioners unanimously approved lifting all fire restrictions during a special business meeting Wednesday.

The decision, which was recommended by the Forest Service, La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith and all four district fire chiefs, was made because of the rain that has fallen in the last week.

Despite the decision to lift restrictions, county commissioners urge residents to exert caution.

“I’m still a bit concerned on the sporadic moisture in the county” Commissioner Brad Blake said. “Some areas are getting a lot of moisture. I’m in favor of lifting restrictions but am still concerned about some areas in the county.”

The county had been under Stage 2 fire restrictions since July 11, when commissioners downgraded from Stage 3 restrictions. The county has been under fire restrictions since May 1.

Commissioners heard from Richard Bustamante of the Forest Service, who shared data that showed the area’s fire danger will continue to decrease over the next several days.

“From a fire management standpoint, the documentation supports rescinding all restrictions,” Bustamante said.

The Forest Service responded to 55 fires in the last week, but none was significant. The fires were caused by lightning strikes, Bustamante said.

Hal Doughty, chief of the Durango Fire Protection District, said the fire department has also responded to fewer calls over the past few days. He told commissioners that with the moisture the area had received, he is comfortable with people smoking in public and issuing permits for slash burns.

“Looking at it backwards, if we had this level of report for you, I don’t think I could justify trying to go into Stage 1 fire restrictions,” Doughty said.

Bustamante also updated commissioners on the status of the 416 Fire. He said because of the rains, the fire hasn’t moved or grown in a couple of weeks. Crews continue to monitor the fire, but no active firefighting is taking place, he said.

“It’s looking pretty benign,” he said.

The fire is still 50 percent contained and will remain so until it is out. The western perimeter of the fire is too difficult to build containment lines around, and officials will instead depend on constant rain to douse the flames.

Officials say they have successfully met 100 percent of their containment objectives, which were to protect the public and firefighters, keep the fire on the west side of Highway 550 and protect all structures.

Bustamante said the cause of the fire will be released within a couple of months. He said the Forest Service has made weekly contact with investigators, who know that the fire was human-caused.

“I know that tests the patience of a lot of folks,” he said. “But really, we want to make sure that everything is in order, and when the time comes for reimbursement for whatever the cause may have been, that everything is right. If we release those results or the cause too soon, it could jeopardize some of that.”