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fire bans and restrictions


Several residents have expressed anxiety over the risk of wildfires within the county due to the dry, windy conditions we’re experiencing.  Some have asked us to declare restrictions on open fires, especially campfires in wilderness or forested areas, in view of these weather factors.  While we sympathize with those views, at this writing the data available to us do not warrant taking that step.

Let me explain how decisions on fire bans and other restrictions are reached.  In my role as sheriff and county fire warden, early every morning I check the fire weather on the National Weather Service’s website.  When it appears from the forecast that critical conditions favorable for wildfires are present or approaching, I confer with fire managers at the US Forest Service, BLM, Colorado Forest Service, AHRA, and both county fire protection districts.  They in turn rely on their vast knowledge of fire science and data available to them to advise me on appropriate restrictions.  More often than not, the objective science will not indicate that restrictions are appropriate, even though to individual residents experiencing dry and windy conditions such restrictions appear completely reasonable.  This disparity in perceptions has been more pronounced recently because of the enormous fires in Larimer and Jefferson Counties and the wide press coverage they have received.  But Chaffee County has not experienced the same weather conditions as other counties and so far, no extensive fire bans have been warranted.  Of course, this could change as we enter the summer months.

Competing interests must be balanced.  On the one hand we wish to be conservative in our efforts to prevent wildfires by implementing bans as soon as the data justify them.  On the other hand, our residents and visitors would rightly oppose any government-imposed restrictions that were not clearly justified and in the best interests of everyone.  Campers, backpackers, rafters, commercial campgrounds, rafting companies, and all the businesses that support those operations are affected by fire bans and their interests must be considered in the same way all others’ are.

Along with the other fire managers in the region  –county, state, and federal— I pledge to you our best efforts and judgment in assuring the safety of our residents and visitors in the prevention of wildfires within Chaffee County.