Southwestern Colorado (CSP District 5) – The summer fire season is upon us even earlier than usual this year. The Colorado State Patrol is reminding residents and visitors alike that there will be zero tolerance for behaviors, whether negligent or knowing, that could spark wildfires.
Already this year, Southwestern Colorado has seen numerous brush fires adjacent to public roadways and near residences. The US Drought Monitor has the San Luis Valley listed as D2 (severe) to D3 (extreme) on a scale from 0 to 4. A recent (April 20) SNOTEL Snow and Precipitation Update Report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service reports that the snow water equivalent for the Upper Rio Grande River Basin is 33 percent of the 1981-2010 median, and the Water Year-to-Date Precipitation is only 55 percent of the average. The Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers are expected to run very low and possibly even dry up in some locations.
Smoke from the Bonita Canyon fire, which has been burning since June 3rd and consumed 1,800 acres thus far is visible in the San Luis Valley. On April 17th near Alamosa a wind-driven fire consumed hundreds of acres and prompted evacuation orders. In Pueblo County a fire near Highway 50 destroyed five homes and caused the evacuations of 200 families in the area. Wildfires are devastating and expensive. They also exhaust resources that are then not available for regular responses.
Illegal and unsafe behaviors that could start destructive and costly fires such as these include:
* Left/Deposit/Threw Burning Material from a Motor Vehicle (42-4-1406(1)(b), C.R.S.) Yes, this includes cigarettes and cigars and ash from cigarettes and cigars.
* Failing to remove (Lighted/Burning) Matter (Left/Deposited/Thrown) on Highway (42-4-1406(2), C.R.S.)
* Unlawful Possession/Sale/Use of Fireworks (24-33.5-2010, C.R.S.)
Even intentionally ignited and what are thought to be well contained fires, like campfires in a fire ring, can easily get out of control. When and where fire bans are in place, it is imperative that they are followed. Low fuel moisture levels, moderate to high winds, high temperatures, and hilly terrain can contribute to fires getting out of control easily. Fires that result in damage to public lands or private property, injury, or death carry appropriate arson charges. These charges can apply even if a fire is unintentionally started but without due regard, or if it is intentionally started for any reason but is not maintained in a reasonably cautious manner. The following are treated as an automatic summons to court:
* Unlawful Conduct on Public Property (such as a starting a fire) (18-9-117, C.R.S.)
* Built Fire Where Prohibited (33-15-106, C.R.S.)
Additionally, drivers in Colorado are reminded that it is illegal and unsafe to:
* Fail to yield right of way to an emergency vehicle (42-4-705(1), C.R.S.)
* Follow too closely behind fire apparatus (42-4-1403, C.R.S.)
* Drive a vehicle over fire hose (42-4-1404, C.R.S.)
* Park in front of a fire hydrant (42-4-1204(7), C.R.S.)
There are many reasons we love to live and play in the San Luis Valley. Please be aware of your actions this summer while driving, camping, and enjoying the many forms of recreation. Consider where you park your vehicle; hot exhaust components can easily ignite brush or dry grass and your car. Obtain information on fire bans and permits from the National Forest Service and by contacting your county or city. Help spread the word to family, friends, and neighbors. It will take every one of us together to ensure our area remains the safe and enjoyable place that it is.