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It’s dry, take care with fire

We had a delightful late spring in Pagosa Country.

Moisture in early spring led to a proliferation of grasses and undergrowth, and all was green.

For a while.

The weather we’ve experienced lately has put an end to that. There has been little or no rain for some time; heat and wind have dried grasses and much of the undergrowth at lower elevations. We are on the edge of a potentially difficult fire season.

The immediate forecast does not show the pattern changing (with warm, dry days expected into next week, and some winds likely). While the landscape will continue to dry out, there is one good thing about the projected weather: no lightning.

It is an interesting fact that wildland fires in Pagosa Country are usually ignited by lightning. The long-range forecast for the area shows a “normal” early summer, with “normal” precipitation. That generally means fairly dry, but with an increasing chance for electrical storms in the afternoons and evenings.

Right now, fire danger on lands in the Pagosa Ranger District is rated as high. While no fire restrictions have been imposed on the public lands, Forest Service officials caution people to be careful with campfires and with the sparks given off by certain kinds of machines and devices. Campers are urged to place fires in designated fire pits, preferably with grates and screens. All campfires should be extinguished completely.

Drew Peterson, Director of Emergency Management for Archuleta County, also urges care on the part of residents and visitors.

Peterson notes that fire danger on lands in the county is rated, as in the forest, as high, but he noted the level is at the “low end of high,” when officials look at the current indices. He also noted there is a considerable amount of green in the understory at high elevations. The problem, of course, is when fire reaches the crowns of pine trees. The more dry days, the more wind, the more possible this becomes.

Fire managers in the area discuss the situation daily and measure conditions against the rules that determine when fire restrictions are put in place.

Peterson said he’s watched the national map and has seen the fire danger zone progress slowly northward. In a week or two, Pagosa Country could be within that zone. If restrictions are necessary, the Forest Service will enact them for the public lands it oversees, the Board of County Commissioners can enact restrictions for the county.

Now, however, we are entering some of the busiest weeks of our summer season, with the Fourth of July holiday looming ahead. There will be plenty of people visiting the area and residents will find themselves out and about, participating in events and activities where fire has its role.

All must be mindful of the danger of an untended or poorly extinguished fire. All fires should be ignited in a clear, safe location and monitored constantly. Campers and those on picnic outings should have water available to thoroughly douse their fires.

Any open fires within the boundaries of the Pagosa Fire Protection District require a district burn permit.

Anyone with an open fire on land in Archuleta County outside fire district boundaries should call Dispatch at 264-2131 and report the activity.

Anyone spotting smoke, in particular following lightning strikes, should report it to Dispatch.

Let’s have a safe holiday, and a summer as free of wildland fire as possible.

Karl Isberg

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