Commissioners enact Stage 2 fire restrictions
In the interest of public health, safety and welfare, the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners today enacted Stage II fire restrictions effective Friday, June 1 in the unincorporated areas of La Plata County and on all lands owned by La Plata County excluding those private lands in the towns of Bayfield and Ignacio, the city of Durango, or any federal or tribal lands.
This winter, snowfall in the Animas River basin was less than 40% of average, and this week, Southwest Colorado’s snowpack is just 3% of historic average. We have been experiencing above-average temperatures, hot dry winds with low humidity and very little rain this spring. As of May 29, the weather station at the Durango-La Plata County Airport had recorded 1.41 inches of precipitation in 2018, nearly 4 inches below the historic average for that time period.
In April, these factors prompted La Plata County to be classified in “exceptional drought” conditions – the most intense of five drought levels. These drought conditions have persisted and the fuels (grass, brush and trees) in La Plata County are extremely dry and can produce explosive fire growth and behavior.
Stage II fire restrictions build on the Stage I restrictions that were adopted by the Board of County Commissioners on May 2 and prohibit the following activities:
• A complete ban of open burning, burn barrels and agricultural burning except for the very limited agriculture burning as provided for in C.R.S. 30-15-401(n.5)(III) and defined in C.R.S. 35-28-104(11).
• Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire, campfire, stove fire, including but not limited to charcoal grills, coal or wood burning stoves, or sheepherder’s stoves, unless the specific device uses pressurized liquid or gas and includes a shut-off valve (such as a gas grill).
• Smoking, unless within an enclosed vehicle, trailer, or building.
• Welding, pipefitting, metal grinding, or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame unless the following requirements are met: a 20-foot radius safe zone free of vegetation and all flammable materials, and in addition to the equipment operator, a fire watch individual equipped with one 2 ½ gallon pressurized fire extinguisher or a five-pound ABC extinguisher or a pressurized water supply and proper hand tools must be readily available and on-site to watch for fires.
• Oil and gas welding and cutting operations, which are required to comply with the requirements of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Rules for Fire Prevention and Production, Rule 606A(o), may only be conducted within a 20-foot radius safe zone that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials; and
• Operating or using any internal combustion engine, including but not limited to chainsaws, generators and all-terrain vehicles, unless equipped with a spark arresting device properly installed, maintained, and in effective working order meeting either Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Standard 5100-1a or Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recommended practice J335(b) and J350 (a); and
• Operating a chainsaw, unless a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher of not less than 8 ounces capacity by weight is in the operator’s immediate vicinity, and one size 0 or larger round, pointed shovel with an overall length of at least 36 inches is with fueling supplies and is readily available; and
• Using an explosive, including but not limited to fireworks, blasting caps, or any other incendiary device. Public fireworks displays for Independence Day will be permitted if they are under the control of local fire departments or licensed fireworks professionals and approved by the local authority having jurisdiction. Blasting in development areas or construction areas with continuous fire watch will be permitted with written authorization of the appropriate fire chief or the sheriff of La Plata County, whomever has jurisdiction; and
• Flaring for oil and gas production wells and production facilities may be allowed with approval from the designated fire chief (or his designee) for that district, or in the event no fire district exists for the location of the proposed flaring, the La Plata County Director of the Office of Emergency Management. Any flaring from established gas processing plants or facilities is exempted.
The restrictions provide flexibility to Sheriff Sean Smith and the fire chiefs to ease restrictions within their respective jurisdictions if they deem doing so to be safe, appropriate and prudent.
There are four fire districts in La Plata County. For specific information about the fire restrictions, contact your local fire department:
• Durango Fire Protection District (for properties in the Animas valley corridor from the north county line to New Mexico), call 382-6000;
• Upper Pine Fire Protection District (for properties east of Bayfield north to Vallecito), call
• Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District (for properties in west La Plata County surrounding Hesperus to the Colorado/New Mexico state line on Highway 140), call 238-0115; or
• Los Pinos Fire Protection District (for properties in the southeast corner of La Plata County and surrounding Ignacio), please call 563-9501.
Fire response agencies in La Plata County will continue to monitor the situation may develop a more restrictive fire ban if conditions deteriorate. The fire restrictions will remain in effect until such time as the threat of fire danger in La Plata County has reduced significantly, as determined by Sheriff Smith and local fire chiefs.
During these exceptional drought conditions, emergency notifications regarding fire and other incidents can provide citizens with critical information. Sign up for CodeRED to receive evacuation notices and other updates via cell phone or email: http://bit.ly/CodeRed_signup.