The big “aspen color” weekend just brought thousands of visitors to Chaffee County while a runaway wildfire threatened Salida in unusually dry and windy weather. A Stage 2 fire ban was in effect here, yet most leaf-peepers, campers and OHV riders never knew it. But as they headed home to the Front Range, they saw CDOT electronic signs at Johnson Village and Trout Creek Pass announcing Park County’s fire ban.
So let’s install electronic signs at the five entrances to Chaffee County to inform visitors and prevent human-caused wildfires from devastating our homes, our economy and our cherished landscape. They’re worth the investment.
Some facts: humans cause nearly 85 percent of wildland fires in the United States – the result of unattended campfires, the burning of debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes, etc. (National Park Service data). The costs of fighting U.S. wildfires topped $2 billion in 2017. For example, the 416 fire in Durango cost $27 million, plus a considerable loss of tourism and related business.
Let’s invest in some straightforward and clear communications to visitors entering Chaffee County, so all understand current wildfire risks and fire restrictions. People pay attention to the large electronic signs but miss the small roadside fire ban signs as they drive by at highway speeds. Jefferson and Park counties do a good job posting their fire bans on CDOT electronic signs, and we should do the same.