La Plata County entered Stage 3 fire restrictions Tuesday, the most stringent category of rules the county has the authority to put in place in order to reduce the risk of wildfire.
The county, which had Stage 2 restrictions in place, increased the fire restrictions because of the extreme fire danger in Southwest Colorado, which has led to the outbreak of the 416 and Burro fires.
County officials hope the additional restrictions will prevent another fire, which will in turn allow available firefighting resources to be dedicated to the two active fires.
Durango Fire Protection District Chief Hal Dougherty, representing all La Plata County fire chiefs, said Tuesday that to enter Stage 3 is not an easy decision but a necessary one.
“We’re seeing fire behavior on an epic scale,” Dougherty said. “We have a great deal of concern for further limiting the economic diversity of our community but ... any misstep could cause us to have another fire.”
Notably, the county’s Stage 3 fire restrictions prevent the operation of any coal-fired steam engines. That means the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad cannot operate its coal engines but it can operate its diesel engines.
The Durango train has already suspended all services until at least June. County manager Joanne Spina said Al Harper, owner of the D&SNGR, assured her the train will not even run diesel engines until the Stage 3 restrictions are lifted.
The restrictions also affect the temporary homeless camp near the Tech Center, which is on county-owned land. The camp was closed Tuesday. Occupants of the camp, like all fire evacuees, have the option of going to the evacuation shelter at Escalante Middle School.
Under these tighter restrictions, residents can still use propane grills, but they are prohibited from a number of other activities, including:
Discharging fireworks and pyrotechnics.Launching floating sky lanterns. Discharging firearms or using exploding targets. (Individuals still have the ability to protect themselves, their property and family.)Blasting in development zones, such as in construction areas.Flaring at oil and gas well sites.La Plata County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Stage 3 restrictions, stressing the fact they are temporary.
“We’re really hoping with the monsoons we can dial that back,” Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said. “But now it’s just paramount we do everything we can to reduce the risk of further fire.”
The San Juan National Forest entered Stage 3 fire restrictions Tuesday and closed all 1.8 million acres. The city of Durango will consider Tuesday afternoon whether to close open space and trails it owns to recreation as well.