by Rick Langenberg:
With fire dangers increasing to another extreme level, the Teller County commissioners have imposed a Stage Two ban, which is one step below shutting down many public recreation areas.
As a result, local residents and visitors won’t be able to light up a cigarette outdoors or partake in any barbecues with charcoal grills, or have any campfires whatsoever, including those done in designated areas. Plus, based on recent decisions done by officials throughout the county, the July 4th Independence holiday won’t feature any fireworks, with most communities delaying or cancelling their shows.
Both Woodland Park and Cripple Creek still plan to have a variety of Independence Day festivities, but with no fireworks. The Teller commission action wasn’t surprising and followed in line with a decision taken last week by the U.S. Forest Service. Forest service officials implemented Stage Two bans for all public and private lands within the Pike and San Isabel forests.
The Teller ban was recommended by Teller County Emergency Management Director Steve Steed and Bud Bright of the Teller Sheriff’s Office. It is quite similar to actions already taken by the cities of Woodland Park and Cripple Creek. Teller had been placed under a Stage One restriction for the last month.
The main difference with Stage a Two prohibition is that it imposes additional restrictions, such as no smoking except inside an enclosed vehicle, along with outlawing charcoal barbecues and campfires at designated pit or grill areas. Outdoor barbecues are permitted, though, if residents use liquid, propane or gas grills and stoves. A number of other activities are banned, such as burning trash, outdoor welding and using any types of explosives or fireworks.
Similar to previous presentations, Steed once again stressed the current fire dangers Teller is facing. He said the forests surrounding the area are ready to burst into flames. “We are going to be chasing fires,” said Steed, when explaining the current conditions and the low moisture content. “They (fires in the region) are spreading very rapidly to the point that it is uncontrollable,” added the emergency manager chief.
Throughout the state, fires are raging strongly with at least 50,000 acres being torched, based on about 10 major blazes. Locally, the area has received a spree of small fires, but the region has not lost any structures. To make matters worse, the western region of the county is encountering a record heat wave. Steed didn’t get any arguments from the commissioners and a large crowd of residents who attended last week’s meeting. “I like our forests,” quipped Commission Vice-Chairman Norm Steen, in favoring the additional restrictions.
The commissioners mainly wanted to know how his office plans to relay this message. Besides using the typical media outlets and the highway electronic signs, Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder suggested outlining more details associated with Stage Two restrictions, such as alerting people about the bans against outdoor smoking and charcoal grills. Steed commented that he would do what he could, but cautioned that these signs typically have limited space for sign content.
The bans have been a familiar reality for Teller residents for the last several years. In fact, about two years ago, Teller dealt with Stage Two restrictions for much of the summer. And last summer, the reality of the Waldo Canyon fire hit home, with about 5,000 residents from Woodland Park, Crystola and the lower Ute Pass getting evacuated for nearly two weeks. In addition, Hwy. 24 between Woodland Park and Colorado Springs was shut down for about 10 days.
Local officials have been conducting a number of emergency preparedness meetings with residents in the last few months.