With massive wildfires burning across the state, regional fire officials are proposing a fire ban that would take effect as soon as next week.
“We are very concerned about the fire danger this year,” said Hal Doughty, deputy chief with Durango Fire & Rescue Authority. “The science that we look at seems to back up that concern. The fuel moistures are very, very low.”
Four major wildfires were burning Wednesday across Colorado, including the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs, which law-enforcement officials fear has burned more than a hundred homes and consumed 12 square miles.
Colorado Springs resident Elaine Redwine, mother of Dylan Redwine, the 13-year-old boy who went missing in November from Vallecito, was on pre-evacuation notice, said Denise Hess, a family friend who lives in Bayfield. The fire was about a mile from her house Wednesday night.
Several smaller fires were burning throughout the state, including a 2-acre fire at 10,400 feet in elevation 14 miles northeast of Pagosa Springs in the Weminuche Wilderness.
No decisions have been made about what kinds of fire restrictions should be implemented next week or where they should apply, Doughty said. La Plata County typically implements fire restrictions in phases, with the lower elevations facing stricter restrictions than higher elevations.
Federal and local fire officials are working together to implement similar bans to eliminate confusion about what kind of burning is prohibited and where it is prohibited, said DFRA Chief Dan Noonan.
“It’s just trying to control the man-made causes, keep everybody fire vigilant and do quick initial attack on every fire possible so they don’t become large fires,” he said.
Montezuma County implemented a countywide fire ban this week that prohibits open burning, including campfires.
Nationally, the fire season works its way from south to north. The same is true in La Plata County.
The fire danger is greatest in the low-lying elevations of southern La Plata County, where piñon, juniper and sagebrush already have dried, Doughty said. So it makes sense to implement fire restrictions in those areas first – typically south of U.S. Highway 160, he said.
Because recreation is an important part of the local economy, fire officials try not to prohibit campfires in higher elevations until it is absolutely necessary, he said.
Local firefighters already have responded to several wildfires this year, including one near a dry riverbed on Florida Mesa, one along the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad tracks and several lightning-caused fires in the wilderness.
DFRA has no plans to cancel this year’s Fourth of July fireworks display, at least not yet, Doughty said.
“It’s our intent to try to pull that show off without being unsafe,” he said. “If we provide a fireworks show, people are less likely to want to go out and buy their own fireworks and put on their own display, which can cause a lot of problems.”
Most municipalities, including Durango, canceled their fireworks shows last year after Gov. John Hickenlooper warned communities that they would be responsible for the cost of fighting wildfires started as a result of sanctioned shows.