Woodland Issues Emergency Restrictions; Pulls The Plug On Fireworks And Smoking

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With fires raging across the state and conditions approaching an ultra- dangerous level, the city of Woodland Park has become the latest community to declare a non-nonsense emergency ban.

With the city’s action, all campfires, trash burning, firing of model rockets and use of many outdoor grills (except for natural gas and liquid propane) are prohibited. In addition, all outdoor smoking within the city limits has been snuffed, except if people light up inside an enclosed vehicle or a developed recreation site or improved area, such as a parking lot. These latter restrictions are stricter than the rules recently passed by the Teller County commissioners and the U.S. Forest Service.

The ban also prohibits anyone from using a chainsaw without an approved spark and puts a cap on many building activities. Welding with an open flame is outlawed, along with using any device that could be determined to cause a potential fire hazard.

Ironically, Woodland Park was one of the last cities in the area to jump on the fire ban bandwagon. But their prohibition comes with a lot more teeth than restrictions adopted in neighboring towns. And unless aspects of the ban are amended, the city’s action calls for no commercial fireworks within the limits of Woodland Park, or private use of fireworks.

This could have an immediate impact on forthcoming festivals. Woodland Park typically hosts fairly big Independence Day galas on July 4th and for the Symphony Above the Clouds concert on July 5. These have included rather elaborate fireworks displays. But in the last few years, residents have grown accustomed to no fireworks shows around the July 4th holiday. At times, city officials have permitted more toned down displays, especially for the Symphony Above the Clouds show at the Woodland Park High School that attracts more than 5,000 people.

More details of the city’s ban may be discussed this Thursday during a meeting of the Woodland Park City Council.

Recent fires not attributed to arson

Despite a bevy of concerns regarding a recent spree of small fires in Teller County, sheriff authorities don’t see any similarities between these blazes and last summer’s suspicious trail of arsons.

Recently, emergency responders grappled with four small fires within a five day period, all occurring in a similar area, and around the same time as more catastrophic fires in other parts of the Pikes Peak region and the state. For many residents, this evoked memories of last June, when Teller was victimized by 30-plus fires around the time of the Waldo Canyon blaze. An arson investigation is still ongoing that has involved authorities from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Teller, Park and Douglas counties, the federal government and Colorado State Patrol. Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger recently told the Mountain Jackpot that the inquiry is proceeding quite well. An analysis of the evidence is being conducted by CBI. Authorities have already determined that all of these blazes were not sparked by natural causes.

The string of 2012 fires even prompted an award fund, headed by Park State Bank & Trust.

Last week, sheriff authorities conducted a number of interviews with the regional media, downplaying the recent fires and any links to arson activity or the pattern of the earlier fires. In fact, Ensminger suggested that two of these fires may have been triggered because the original flames weren’t quite extinguished, according to a report in the Colorado Springs Gazette. “It’s a common problem everywhere you go in the state,” said Ensminger, in describing the flurry of blazes.

Last weekend, nearly 10 major fires were raging across the state. A small wildland fire also was reported off Painted Rocks Road, approaching a quarter acre in size. The majority of smaller Teller fires occurred off Teller One, between Cripple Creek and Florissant. In most cases, they were doused fairly quickly. But residents are worried about any familiar trends.

The arson fires of last summer were all extinquished with limited damage. However, they severely crippled local resources. In addition, the timing was extremely suspicious. Some residents see similar patterns in the timeline of the recent fires, compared to last year at this time.