GarCo to allow fireworks sales; crews still work to douse wildfire

Garfield County commissioners on Monday agreed to allow fireworks sales before the Fourth of July, struggling with the safety issue even as crews continue to work to fully contain a wildfire that has burned 485 acres near Rifle.

Containment of the Ward Gulch Fire had increased to 85 percent Monday, and the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery and Rifle Falls State Park had reopened, although camping wasn’t yet permitted at the state park.

Commissioners voted 2-1 to carve out about a one-week exception around July 4 to the ban it imposed earlier this year against fireworks sales and use in unincorporated parts of the county. The ban against use remains in place.

The commissioners’ action came after an impassioned plea by Ray Cordova, who for many years has operated a seasonal fireworks stand off Colorado Highway 82 south of Glenwood Springs. He said people want to buy fireworks, even if for use later in the year once the fire danger is lower.

Said Commissioner Mike Samson, who came up with a compromise supported by Commissioner John Martin, “People should have a right to buy fireworks, hopefully to use responsibly and hopefully at a better time.”

Cordova told commissioners, “I believe that fireworks don’t start fires, lightning starts fires.”

The Ward Creek Fire, burning north of Rifle Gap Reservoir, was sparked by a lightning storm Thursday.

But Commissioner Tom Jankovsky noted that last summer sparklers caused a wildfire near homes in the Glenwood Springs area.

Jankovsky said he supports private business rights, but also took an oath to protect public safety.

“I know that 99 percent of the people that use fireworks are safe with them but in this case I have to put that restriction (against sales) in there because that’s what’s expected of me from my constituents,” he said.

Commissioners imposed the fireworks restrictions just after a dry winter. But that was followed by a moist spring, and Cordova had been asking them to change their minds. But Chris Bornholdt, the county’s emergency manager, told commissioners the county is now in severe drought and conditions are becoming worse.

The Ward Gulch Fire immediately threatened a dozen homes. Twenty-five people evacuated from them were allowed to return Sunday.

The fire already has cost the federal government more than $1 million to fight. About half that cost resulted from an early and intensive aerial attack, as crews sought to keep the fire from turning into a weeks-long battle that could have cost $1 million a day.

The fire hasn’t grown significantly since Friday, despite occasional strong winds. But its acreage estimates have varied largely based on continued efforts to improve mapping.

About 250 firefighters were on the blaze as of Monday.

Boating at Rifle Gap Reservoir is being allowed again, but its west end remains closed so a helicopter can pick up water there to be dropped on the fire.

Thursday’s lightning and more lightning since then have sparked numerous, mostly single-tree, fires in the Rifle area, but Ward Creek is the only significant fire now burning in the area.


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