Fire ban lifted as rain hits region

Counties, BLM end restrictions as risk to vegetation eases

Continuing monsoonal rains have washed away the need for fire restrictions in many parts of the region.

Mesa and Garfield County are lifting their fire restrictions effective Wednesday, as are the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction and Colorado River Valley field offices.

The actions mean not just private lands in Mesa and Garfield counties but all BLM lands in those two counties and Eagle, Pitkin and Routt counties will be out of fire restrictions on Wednesday, the BLM said Monday.

With fire conditions varying by elevation, Eagle and Pitkin counties hadn’t imposed restrictions, and neither had the White River National Forest. Routt and Montrose counties and the Gunnison and Uncompahgre national forests lifted their limits last week.

Fire limits remain in place for now on all non-national-forest lands in Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.

Numerous jurisdictions had imposed stage 1 fire limits earlier this year. Those include prohibitions on any fires except campfires in designated fire grates in developed campgrounds; a requirement that smoking occur only in an enclosed vehicle or building, developed recreation site or area free of vegetation; and the mandated use of spark arrestors on chain saws.

The BLM on Monday urged the public to remain careful with fire, even with the lowered danger, noting that late summer and early fall can be dry and fire-prone.

“On the right day with the right fuel type you can still get something that takes off,” said BLM spokesman David Boyd.

Lightning caused numerous large wildfires in western Colorado earlier this summer.

Factors such as vegetation moisture measurements, weather forecasts and the possibility for human-caused fires are weighed in decisions on fire restrictions. Area restrictions went into effect in June as the camping season was picking up and the Fourth of July holiday was looming.

Boyd said vegetation is evaluated to see if for five days it’s at or above the 90th percentile for its energy release component, a measurement of how hot it would burn. To reach that level means it’s worse than 90 percent of days historically during a fire season.

He said measures of grass/piñon/juniper, mountain shrub/aspen, and timber were all at about 90 percent or a little higher at sites within the Grand Junction and Colorado River Valley field office areas in June.

Now they’re at 46 percent for grass/piñon/juniper, 36 percent for mountain shrub/aspen, and 26 percent for timber.

Area fire officials talked last week about lifting restrictions but didn’t want to act too soon because of the public information challenge should restrictions later have to be put back in place.

“They really wanted to see what this weekend’s moisture brought. Obviously it rained quite a bit,” Boyd said.

Mesa County sheriff’s spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said there’s a lot of effort by agencies to coordinate both the imposing and lifting of restrictions.

“More than anything we don’t want it to be confusing to the public. Should the BLM lift (restrictions) and we don’t, that’s really a contradictive message.

“There’s a great effort, actually, to be consistent both going into it and coming out of it. … We’re just motivated to do that together, to simplify it for the public. That helps with compliance, when it’s not confusing,” she said.



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