Fire restrictions easing but still need for caution
By Mark Reaman
Two days before officials reduced fire restrictions in the area from Stage 2 to Stage 1 thanks to monsoon rains, an apparent lightning strike started a tree fire up the Slate River Valley near Oh Be Joyful on Saturday, July 14.
A group of 18 firefighters from Crested Butte, Gunnison, and Montrose, along with a firefighting helicopter, all responded to the fire that was reported by several hikers who were in the area.
“It is likely that this was caused by a lightning strike as there was a fracture in the tree that was on fire,” explained Crested Butte Fire Protection operations chief Rob Weisbaum. “A helicopter was called in immediately by U.S. Forest Service personnel based on the initial report. Ten firefighters from CBFPD, four wildland firefighters from Helitak [a firefighting crew] out of Montrose and four firefighters from the Gunnison Forest Service office all responded to the fire.”
The initial call came in about 5:10 p.m. Saturday. According to Weisbaum, local Crested Butte firefighters were able to drive up Oh Be Joyful until the double track ended. “They then hiked in 2.8 miles, each carrying five-gallon bladder bags. The Helitak crew was dropped off via helicopter close to the scene,” Weisbaum said. “A fire line was dug around the area of the fire to help prevent it from spreading and water was applied. Ignitable sources in the immediate fire area were also mitigated. The crews were on site for a couple of hours, probably six hours with hiking time. The following day, the Helitak team and Forest Service personnel went in to assure the fire was out.”
Weisbaum said the area has been pretty lucky during the dry conditions and now the monsoon season appears to have started, with regular rainstorms. “There was report of smoke showing on the back side of Round Mountain last week, presumably from lightning strike. However, the rain quickly put it out,” he noted. “Even as the high danger point appears to be over, please continue to be mindful and use good judgment. Despite the rain, it is still possible to start fires. Do not leave campfires unattended and assure they are completely put out prior to leaving. That means they should be cold to touch.”
Reduction in restrictions but most fires still banned
The change in weather has resulted in the Bureau of Land Management, the Gunnison National Forest and Gunnison County all agreeing to reduce the fire restrictions in the county to Stage 1. That means there are still fire restrictions.
Generally, campfires, stove fires, charcoal grills, hibachis and coal or wood-burning stoves are still not allowed.
People should still be careful but campfires in permanent Forest Service–provided fire grates and grills within developed campgrounds and picnic areas are allowed. Petroleum-fueled stoves or lanterns that use gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel are also allowed. Smoking is still not allowed in the forest except inside a vehicle or away from combustable material. Fireworks, tracer bullets and exploding targets are also still prohibited under the Stage 1 restrictions.
According to a press release from the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, “Fire managers base decisions about fire restrictions on specific fuel moisture measurements in vegetation and other risk factors such as predicted weather and amount of current fire activity. Conditions are improving and these restrictions will be implemented to reflect current fire danger levels. Fire restrictions on these lands will be in place until further notice.”