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Chaffee County, like so many Colorado counties is in Stage 2 fire ban; with tourists flooding into the Arkansas River Valley for the Memorial Day weekend, now is the time to pay attention to safety tips.

At 13,961 feet, Mt. Ouray towers over O’Haver Lake in the San Isabel National Forest. (photo by Joe Stone).

The threat of wildfire is real here, and the state of Colorado is just beginning to reopen from ‘Safer-at-Home’ public health orders due to the highly infectious coronavirus known as COVID-19.

While people are anxious to get outdoors and residents of this county want all of us to stay safe while we enjoy some time in nature, they should be aware of what Stage 2 Fire Ban means: no igniting, building, maintaining, attending or using an open fire, including charcoal grills and barbecues, coal and wood-burning stoves and sheepherder’s stoves, as well as smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle, trailer, or building.

This ban is in place for both unincorporated county lands and public lands. More than 86 percent of Chaffee County is public land. managed by the U.S. Forest Service, or the Bureau of Land Management.

If you do plan on visiting the public lands of Chaffee County this summer, following the Stage 2 restrictions, as well  the social distancing guidelines in place in this county due to COVID-19 will help you recreate safely.

These safety and responsibility guidelines were provided by the offices of the Pike and San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron & Comanche National Grasslands (PSICC) which manages much of the public lands in Chaffee County:

  • Stay close to home to keep other communities safe.
  • Stay 6 feet apart from others.
  • Avoid crowding in parking lots, trails, scenic overlooks, and other areas.
  • Take CDC precautions to prevent illnesses like COVID-19.
  • Prepare for limited or no services, such as restroom facilities and garbage collection.
  • Prepare to pack out trash and human waste.

For those residents and visitors who might be irritated that a favorite camping area isn’t yet open, Pike and San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands Forest Supervisor Diana M. Trujillo says that national forest employees are working to prepare facilities.

They need time to ensure that necessary personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies are readily available. Trails, trailheads, and general forest areas will remain accessible for public use.

“Closing any site is not a decision we take lightly, but protecting our visitors and employees remains our highest priority,” said Forest Supervisor Diana M. Trujillo. “We are working with local, state, and federal partners to determine the best path forward to safely increasing access.”

Trujillo says that more than most organizations, her national forest and grasslands employees understand the value of nature to promote mental and physical health comes at a time when access is vital to the American public. “We are working diligently to open the trails for full access and ask that visitors be patient during this transition period. Be prepared for other options if your trail is closed, and whenever possible, recreate locally.”

The encouragement to recreate locally is well-founded. With so many mountain counties under Stage 1 or 2 fire bans, the threat of wildfire is real.

“The fire restrictions prohibit igniting, building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, including charcoal grills and barbecues, coal and wood-burning stoves and sheepherder’s stoves, as well as smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle, trailer, or building,” says Trujillo.

Those thinking they might try to skirt the orders should know that a violation of the orders is punishable as a Class B misdemeanor by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both.

The message from both County Law enforcment and public lands supervisors: Stay Fire Safe – and Personally Safe — this Holiday Weekend.