Warm weather, clear skies and long days mean it’s time to get out and into the forests around Summit County, but it also means it’s time to watch for wildfire danger. . So how should campers, glampers and galivants in general prepare for a weekend in nature?
Members of the Red, White, and Blue Fire Protection District and Summit Fire and EMS answered some of these questions last week as Colorado enters what state officials anticipate will be a year “in above normal” for forest fires. Local firefighters have stressed the need for personal responsibility – mistakes made in the backcountry can have devastating consequences and stricter fire regulations.
A day in the woods should start with planning, whether you’re camping, fishing, mountain biking or hiking. Those exploring Summit County’s natural areas should check local fire restrictions and fire danger levels before venturing out, said Red, White and Blue captain Matt Benedict. Summit County currently has no restrictions, but that may change in a day. For this reason, Benedict said he recommends people check the area’s fire restrictions on the day of their trip.
The Colorado Forest Service’s online interactive map, available at Co-Pub.ColoradoForestAtlas.org, displays the boundaries of fire protection districts.
For example, a Level 1 fire restriction in Summit County limits fires to established campgrounds and private residences, and the latter requires a valid fire district permit. A Level 2 fire restriction prohibits any type of campfire and requires any equipment with a flame to have a kill switch. Outdoor wood-burning stoves are not permitted during a Stage 2 restriction, even if they are closed.
Of course, a wildfire risk is present even when outdoor enthusiasts travel to their destination. Chains trailing behind cars and campers start wildfires every season, Benedict said. Dry grass at trailheads combined with hot exhaust can also ignite flames.
He warned people to be wary of where they park, as did Steve Lipsher of Summit Fire and EMS. They recommend sticking to established gravel parking areas and avoiding parking in grassy areas, as hot exhaust pipes and catalytic converters can ignite dry grass. Not only will the weeds burn, but the car will too, Lipsher said.
Once recreational enthusiasts arrive at their destination, there are more risks to watch out for. Wildfires are the most common wildfire starters, Benedict said. He warns campers to watch where they light their fires. Overhead trees, nearby overfalls, and wind-blown embers can all start fires. Often, he says, embers can drift from a fire without anyone noticing.
“If you are going to have a fire, it is your responsibility to determine if we are under fire restrictions first,” he said, and added that campers should understand “we have a forest highly flammable”.
Setting up a campfire in a suitable location can make all the difference, he said.
And just because the flames aren’t visible doesn’t mean the fire has been extinguished, he said. Campers should run their hands through the ashes carefully and check the heat before declaring a fire “extinguished”, he said.
“If you’re going to have a fire, you have to have a way to put it out. You must have a bucket of water. You must have a shovel,” Benedict said. “And then you have to actually use these products when you take them out. Fan the fire, put a lot of water on it and drown it. Put your hands in it and make sure there’s no heat.
“With the use of fire comes responsibility,” Lipsher said. “Every year we are called to unattended campfires. It’s mortifying.
His advice? Pour water on the fire, stir it with a stick, pour water over it again and carefully stick your hand into it.
Propane stoves are generally a safe option, Benedict said. Red, White, and Blue have responded to fires resulting from stoves, but usually the cause is a faulty part, and the only thing on fire is the stove itself.