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Be wary of fire danger as summer approaches

Summer has unofficially arrived and, with it, so have the cookouts, grilling, campfires — and fire danger.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, Pagosa Ranger District, fire danger in the area is currently moderate, thanks to overcast skies Wednesday.

But, as Pagosa Fire Protection District Chief Ron Thompson pointed out, warm, windy days can rapidly dry materials and increase fire danger in the area, meaning increased vigilance is recommended.

“It doesn’t take anything for these things to take off,” Thompson said of wildland fires, adding, “With the resources we have in the county, it becomes a critical situation, for sure ... We don’t have the sources to catch up with a huge fire real quick.”

In a nationwide safety effort, the U.S. Fire Administration and FEMA have released a series of tips focused on recreational fires and grills.

Fire and injury dangers in terms of grills is highest across the U.S. in May, June, July and August, while fire pit and campfire usage also increases during the summer months.

An estimated 5,700 grill fires happen on residential properties each year in the U.S., with almost half of those fires occurring between 5 and 8 p.m.

The safety focus offers the following tips for general grill safety:

• Propane and charcoal barbecue grills must only be used outdoors. If used indoors or in any enclosed spaces such as tents, they pose both a fire hazard and the risk of exposing occupants to toxic gases and potential asphyxiation.

• Position the grill well away from siding, deck railing and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.

• Place the grill a safe distance from lawn games, play areas and foot traffic.

• Keep children and pets from the grill area: declare a three-foot “safe zone” around the grill.

• Use long-handled grilling tools to give the chef plenty of clearance from heat and flames when cooking.

• Periodically remove grease or fat buildup in trays below the grill so it cannot be ignited by a hot grill.

More specific safety tips for charcoal and propane grills are available on the website listed below.

According to the USFA, the growing popularity of fire pits is an increasing concern for firefighters, raising the need for awareness and safety concerning fire pits.

The fire safety effort by the USFA and FEMA offers the following tips for fire pit safety:

• Keep pits away from flammable material and fluids such as gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene and charcoal lighter fluid or vehicles while in use.

• Do not use flammable fluids such as gasoline, alcohol, diesel fuel, kerosene and charcoal lighter fluid to light or relight fires.

• Exercise the same precautions you would with an open fire.

• Do not allow children to use the fire pit. Keep children and pets away.

• Do not wear flammable or loose fitting clothing such as nylon when using a fire pit.

• Do not burn trash, leaves, paper, cardboard or plywood. Avoid using soft wood such as pine or cedar that is likely to pop and throw sparks. Use of seasoned hardwood is suggested.

• Before starting the fire, make sure that the lid will still close to extinguish the fire in case of emergency. Do not overload.

• Before lighting the fire, check the wind direction.

• Keep a fire extinguisher or garden hose nearby.

Heading into Pagosa Country’s expansive backyard naturally lends itself to memories, hikes, s’mores and campfires, but campfires built improperly, left unattended, that are not properly extinguished or any other disobedience of Smokey the Bear can cause the loss and destruction of that backyard.

FEMA and the USFA offer the following tips from Smokey:

• Do not build a fire at a site in hazardous, dry conditions. Do not build a fire if the campground, area or event rules prohibit campfires.

• Find out if the campground has an existing fire ring or fire pit.

• If there is not an existing fire pit and pits are allowed, look for a site that is at least fifteen feet away from tent walls, shrubs, trees or other flammable objects. Also, beware of low-hanging branches overhead.

When ready to put out your fire and call it a night, follow these guidelines:

• Allow the wood to burn completely to ash, if possible.

• Pour lots of water on the fire; drown all embers, not just the red ones.

• Pour until hissing sound stops.

• Stir the campfire ashes and embers with a shovel.

• Scrape the sticks and logs to remove any embers.

• Stir and make sure everything is wet and they are cold to the touch.

• If water is not available, use dirt. Mix enough dirt or sand with the embers to cool. Continue adding and stirring until all material is cool.

• Do not bury the fire, as the fire will continue to smolder and could catch roots on fire that will eventually get to the surface and start a wildfire.

• If the fire is too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

In addition to recreational fires, Thompson urged vigilance when working around the home using any appliance (chainsaw, lawnmower, etc.) that could throw sparks and cause a fire and urges residents to have a safe zone around their homes.

“One of the things that we’re always pushing is the idea of having a safe perimeter around your home,” Thompson said.

According to Thompson, that perimeter (clear pine needles, store firewood away from the house, etc.) should be 30 ft. on flat surfaces and 100-200 ft. on a grade.

“We have to be vigilant, we have to be aware, we have to do our due diligence to make sure our properties are properly maintained,” Thompson said.

More safety tips can be found at or by calling the Pagosa Ranger District or PFPD.

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