County fire restrictions clarified

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By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

The Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) clarified this week that recreational fires at private residences are currently not permitted under the county’s Stage 1 fire restrictions.

The county implemented the fire restrictions on Aug. 19, following Gov. Jared Polis’ announcement that he would sign an executive order banning open fires for the next 30 days, with that order taking effect on Aug. 20. 

In a phone call Wednesday, Pagosa Fire Protection District Chief Randy Larson confirmed the governor’s order had limits identical to Stage 1 fire restrictions, which Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez implemented on Aug. 19.

Archuleta County Attorney Todd Weaver explained in an email Tuesday how the county is now under new fire restrictions without a vote from the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC).

“This is a rather unique situation,” he wrote. “The fire restrictions the County is putting in place are identical to those in the Governor’s Executive Order implementing a state-wide fire ban. The Governor’s state-wide fire ban is already in place and enforceable by the Sheriff as the fire warden for the County. 

“While the BoCC must normally vote and approve local fire restrictions, those restrictions are already in place and enforceable due to the Governor’s Executive Order. Local fire restrictions will be voted on by the BoCC next week so that these fire restrictions (if approved) can remain in force if the Governor decides to rescind his executive order,” wrote Weaver.

Other local agencies have also implemented fire restrictions recently:

• On Aug. 19, the San Juan National Forest went into Stage 1 fire restrictions.

• On Aug. 21, Stage 1 fire restrictions went into effect for the Rio Grande National Forest.

• On Aug. 20, the Southern Ute Indian Reservation implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions “due to minimal monsoon moisture, current high temperatures” and other reasons.

County fire restrictions

The following acts are prohibited in unincorporated Archuleta County under the Archuleta County Stage 1 Fire Restriction until further notice, according to an Aug. 19 press release from the ACSO:

• Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, coal- or wood-burning stove, any type of charcoal-fueled broiler, or open fire of any type in undeveloped areas. 

The fire restrictions do not include charcoal fires in suitable containers or gas grills for barbecues at private residences or fires within designated campground pits with protective grates. However, such fires should not be left unattended and should be fully extinguished after use. 

The fire restriction also does not include camp stoves, grills, or lights fueled by bottled gas, or pressurized liquid fuel, specifically designed for the purpose of camp cooking or illumination “which shall not be left unattended and shall be fully extinguished after use.”

• Agricultural burning of crop land, fields, rangeland, debris burning, slash piles, prescribed burning and weed burning are prohibited.

• “Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, in a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable vegetation.” 

• “Using explosive material (i.e., fireworks, blasting caps, or any incendiary device which may result in the ignition of flammable material). The fire restrictions do not include local community fireworks displays that have been, or may be, approved and permitted by the Archuleta Country Sheriff.”

• “Operating or using any internal combustion engine is prohibited unless it is equipped with a working spark-arresting device. The device must be properly installed, maintained and must meet either:

“i. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service Standard 5100-1a; or

“ii. Appropriate Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recommended practice J355(b) and J350(a)”

• “The following requirements apply to all welding and cutting operations. Firefighting hand tools shall be readily available. During welding, a combination of fire extinguishers with a combined capacity of 40 lbs or a pressurized water supply shall be immediately accessible. When welding or cutting in an area that a fire may ignite, a person shall be designated as a fire watch. The area surrounding the work shall be inspected at least one (1) hour after the hot work is completed.”

• “Oil and gas operations are required to comply with the requirements of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Rules for Fire Prevention and Protection, Rule 606A.”

• “Any gas escaping from a well during drilling operations shall be, so far as practical, conducted to a safe distance from the well site and flammable vegetation, and burned.” 

Operators are also required to notify Archuleta County Combined Dispatch at 731-2160 in advance of any flaring when it is anticipated, and in all other cases as soon as possible, but no more than two hours after the flaring has occurred.