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Vail Daily​ Valley Voices article - Sheriff James Van Beek​ - How to be fire-free and safe this summer

“It’s raining fire” is not something anyone wants to hear ever again. We are still recovering from last summer’s blazes, particularly the Lake Christine fire. 

We’ve had an amazing winter season and the snow melt should keep things from becoming overly dry. There is a concern that the abundance of moisture will cause dangerously high water conditions on our rivers, potentially causing flooding, and the burn-damaged areas may suffer from mudslides. All appear to be the opposite of wildfire conditions, yet, we must be cognizant of dry underbrush and beetle-infested trees that are fire starters, regardless of damp soil conditions. 

With summer approaching, I wanted to touch on some fire safety information, from fire restrictions to fireproofing your home. With our outdoor lifestyle, camping is a regular event. Be smart — douse campfires with water, stir and douse again. The fire area should be cold to the touch before leaving.

Know your fire restrictions:

There are three stages, with some local variations. 

Stage 1: Prohibiting campfires, wood-burning stoves, charcoal grills, and other open flames, including smoking, except in enclosed buildings and vehicles, and any type of explosive material, including fireworks or other pyrotechnic devices. Exceptions include permanent fire pits with grates, in developed recreational areas, and lanterns using gas or jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel. 

There are also restrictions in using equipment that creates a spark.  Welding and other open torch tools may be exempt with permits that include restricted use like having a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher nearby, at least one 35-inch shovel, and a 10-foot clearing away from combustible material, including grasses and dry brush.  

Stage 2: All of the restrictions of Stage 1 plus … no fires, even in developed campgrounds and picnic areas, any internal combustion engine (e.g. chainsaw, generator, ATV) without a spark arresting device, and any fuses or blasting caps, rockets, exploding targets, tracer rounds, and other spark generating or incendiary objects, agricultural burns (except by permit).  Also prohibited is the use of off-road motor vehicles, except in areas devoid of vegetation within 10 feet of the roadway and in developed campgrounds and trailheads. 

Exemptions to Stages 1 and 2: Persons engaged in activities within designated areas, where such activity is specifically authorized by written posted notice.

Stage 3: Closure. To virtually eliminate the potential for human-caused fire hazards by restricting the designated area to only authorized personnel. 

Violation penalties can include substantial fines and potential imprisonment, varying by agency. We have certainly experienced the devastation of Stage 2 violations.

Getting your home safe:

Fireproofing your home may slow down the progress of a fire, allowing time for firefighters to arrive.  Of course, there are now new materials in homebuilding that inhibit fires but most of us live in existing structures.  There are still some things that can be done. 

Create a fireproof barrier around your home, if possible, 100 feet. The use of gravel and concrete with driveways and patios helps to create a break.  Flame-resistant plants can also slow down approaching flames; ones that are low resin with high moisture content are best. 

Pay particular attention to areas that are uphill towards your home.  Regularly clear out the undergrowth and check for flammable items in storage sheds and garages. 

If you have a gated entrance and there is a Stage 2 warning in effect, you may want to consider leaving the gate unlocked to allow easier access for emergency vehicles. Roof and siding are best if made of tile, metal, concrete, stone, brick, or stucco. If you have a wood roof, be sure to paint the shingles with a fire-resistant treatment. 

Having double-paned windows with metal, rather than wood frames, also helps slow down fire threats. When building an outdoor deck, instead of wood, consider concrete, brick, or stone, for fire resistance. Clean out debris from gutters which can ignite from nearby sparks. Be aware of tree limbs around power lines. 

To help prevent your home from being a source of fire, pay attention to the details. 

*Keep candles away from curtains or easily flammable objects; a slight breeze can ignite a fire. 
*Be careful draping anything over light bulbs; their heat can ignite. 
*Never run space heaters unattended. 
*Dryer lint is a leading cause of home fires; clean it out every month. 
*Do not overload plugs — check the voltage of extension cords and never run them under rugs. 
*Check appliances and their cords; if it emits an odor, it could be defective and can become a fire hazard. 
*Install fire alarms and check batteries regularly. 
*Keep a fire extinguisher nearby. 
*A fire ladder upstairs can be a lifesaver. 
Summer is one of the most enjoyable times of year in Eagle County. Let’s make this one fire-free and safe.

For more information contact:

Eagle County Sheriff’s Office: 970-328-8500
Eagle County’s Wildfire Mitigation Specialist: 970-328-8742
Eagle River Fire Protection District: 970-748-9665
Greater Eagle Fire Protection District: 970-328-7244
Gypsum Fire Protection District: 970-524-7101
Vail Fire and Emergency Services: 970-479-2250
BLM Office, Glenwood Springs: 970-947-2800
USFS Office, Eagle: 970-328-6388
USFS Office, Minturn: 970-827-5715
Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District: 970-704-0675

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.