By Randi Pierce
Fire restrictions are in place for parts of Archuleta County, with additional agencies moving into fire restrictions in the coming days.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Southern Ute Indian Tribe entered into Stage 1 fire restrictions Monday, with the lower elevations of the San Juan National Forest following at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, July 13.
Archuleta County is anticipated to move into Stage 1 restrictions at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, July 19.
Stage 1 restrictions may vary by jurisdiction, and recreationists should check restrictions for specific areas prior to visiting the area.
All restrictions are in effect until rescinded by each agency.
All public lands administered by the BLM Tres Rios Field Office within the boundaries of Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, and Montezuma counties, as well as the northwest portion of Montrose County and western half of San Miguel County, including Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, moved into Stage 1 fire restrictions at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, July 10.
“The restrictions align with local orders and guidelines to protect the public’s safety during high fire danger,” a press release announcing the restrictions states.
“Increasingly dry conditions and high fire danger require the Tres Rios Field Office to implement Stage 1 fire restrictions,” said Tres Rios Field Manager Derek Padilla. “We ask the public to please abide by these restrictions and remember that fireworks are always prohibited on public lands.”
Under the BLM’s Stage 1 fire restrictions, the following acts are prohibited:
• Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire except within agency-provided fire grates at developed recreation sites. Devices using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel are permitted.
• Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.
• Operating a chain saw without an approved spark arrester properly installed and working, a chemical fire extinguisher of not less than 8 ounces capacity by weight, and one round-point shovel with an overall length of at least 36 inches.
• Using a welder, either arc or gas, or operating acetylene or other torch with open flame, except in cleared areas of at least 10 feet in diameter with a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher of not less than 8 ounces capacity.
• Using exploding targets.
“Violation of federal fire restrictions is punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than 12 months or both. In addition, those found responsible for starting wildfires will also face restitution costs of suppressing the fire,” it states.
More information about fire prevention is available online at https://www.blm.gov/programs/public-safety-and-fire/fire-and-aviation/get-involved/fire-prevention.
Current fire prevention notices for the BLM Southwest District are posted online at https://www.blm.gov/programs/public-safety-and-fire/fire-and-aviation/regional-information/colorado/southwest-district.
Southern Ute Indian Tribe
The signed order implementing Stage 1 restrictions on all trust lands through the Southern Ute Indian Reservation states, “This action is necessary due to high fire danger, resulting from the prolonged hot and dry conditions we are experiencing.”
The press release announcing the restrictions also cites the occurrence of recent wildland fires.
“Everyone on reservation lands is asked to be very cautious and use common sense with fire this time of year,” it states.
The restrictions prohibit open burning, agricultural burning, campfires outside officially designated or developed campsites, and fireworks for the general public.
Commercial and industrial restrictions can be obtained from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Fire Office at 575 County Road 517 or by calling (970) 563-4571.
Anyone violating the provisions of this fire ban may be subject to prosecution outlined in the Southern Ute Indian Criminal Code.
San Juan National Forest
The San Juan National Forest implemented Stage I fire restrictions in lower elevations of the forest beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, July 13.
“Fire restrictions will only be implemented in lower elevations to account for variable conditions across the forest,” the Wednesday press release states. “Low elevation areas (referred to as Zone I in the Forest Order) are more susceptible to wildfire risk due to rapid vegetation curing and dry surface fuels, while higher elevation areas (Zone II) are still green and maintaining higher fuel moistures.”
All San Juan National Forest Wilderness Areas are excluded from Stage I fire restrictions.
“Although Southwest Colorado experienced a wet winter and spring, pulling us out of our years-long drought and decreasing spring wildfire risk, vegetation is now drying out due to hot, dry weather, leading to wildfire conditions in the lower country that dictate the need for Stage I Fire Restrictions,” the press release states. “This summer’s wildfire season is rated as average,’ across the San Juan NF, which still means there is large wildfire potential. The forests of Southwest Colorado are fire-adapted ecosystems, so even on average years wildfires historically occurred. As we saw this summer on the Chris Mountain Fire on the Pagosa Ranger District, fires can grow hundreds of acres in a day even when vegetation is relatively wet.”
The Stage 1 restrictions on the San Juan National Forest prohibit the following:
• Igniting, building, maintaining, attending or using a fire (including fires fueled by charcoal or briquettes) except if it is in:
“a) A permanent metal or concrete fire pit or grate that the U.S. Forest Service has installed and maintained at its developed recreation sites (campgrounds and picnic areas);
“b) A device solely fueled by liquid or gas that can be turned on and off used in an area barren or cleared of all flammable materials within three feet of the device; or
“c) A fully enclosed metal stove with a chimney at least five feet in length and a mesh screen spark arrestor with a screen opening of a ¼ inch or less used in an area that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials within 10 feet of the device.”
• Smoking is prohibited, except in an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.
• Operating or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark-arresting device properly installed, maintained and in effective working order meeting specified standards. For chain saw use, a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher (with a minimum 8 oz. capacity and rating of 2A) must be kept with the operator, and a round-point shovel with an overall length of at least 35 inches readily available for use.
• Blasting, welding, or operating acetylene or other torch with open flame, except if in a cleared area of at least 10 feet in diameter and a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher (with a minimum 8 oz. capacity and rating of Class 2A) is kept with the operator.
• Using an explosive. This includes but is not limited to fuses, blasting caps, fireworks, rockets, exploding targets, tracers and incendiary ammunition.
A Wednesday press release notes the minimum fine for violating campfire restrictions in Stage I in Colorado is $530.
The press release also notes fire restrictions do not prevent wildfires.
“It is every forest visitor’s and camper’s responsibility to follow best practices, properly maintain and extinguish campfires to prevent wildfires,” it reads. “Violations are punishable as a Class B misdemeanor by a fine of not more than $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations and/or by imprisonment for not more than six months. Fire prevention and law enforcement will be patrolling, and anyone who violates Stage 1 restrictions will be ticketed.”
More about fire restrictions, fuels management and other fire-related issues can be found at https://tinyurl.com/3km7cspd.
The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners is slated to consider moving the unincorporated areas of Archuleta County into Stage 1 restrictions at the board’s regular meeting on July 18.
Archuleta County Sheriff Mike Le Roux explained those restrictions will likely go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on July 19.