Teller Sheriff Warns About Dangers of Using Fires to Mitigate Properties

New Policies Prevent Third Parties from Burning Slash Piles Without Insurance

Trevor Phipps

For over a month, the legality of burning large slash piles on private property across certain sections of Teller County has hit center stage, sparking some lively debates.

Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell has recently outlined the county’s burn permit policies in more detail, along with future enforcement and education steps it plans to take.

The sheriff sent out a message to the public stating that he has received letters from residents wanting their office to allow the burning of slash piles to be conducted by a third party other than the property owner.


The letters came about after the Teller County Commissioners passed an ordinance to clarify what sizes of piles can be burned, and who is allowed to conduct the burning. The new policy states that third parties must have their own insurance and get approval by the homeowner and county before they conduct burns on other people’s property to help in fire mitigation.


Property owners are allowed to burn piles up to 8 feet-by-8 feet if they apply for a burning permit through the county. A homeowner can burn a limited number of slash piles if they furnish proof of insurance.


If people choose to let a third-party conduct burning on their property they must give authorization to the county that they are letting an outside organization conduct the burning. The selected organization then must have their own liability insurance that covers the burn should any mishap occur.


According to the sheriff, the letters from the community have specifically talked about letting the “NoFloCo (Fire Mitigation Posse) organization in Florissant aid people in the community by helping them burn slash piles. The letters have claimed that the organization has necessary qualifications to help others mitigate by burning slash and other fuels, but the sheriff disagrees.

In their website, the organization’s mission is stated as assisting “private property owners within the wildland urban interface footprint with fire mitigation, fire awareness and forest health,” with the goal of “making the community safer from fire danger, improving property appearance and having fun.” In their website, the group contends it now has 423 members, and highlights the phrase, “Chop ‘Til You Drop.”

But recently, the issue of burning huge slash piles as a form of mitigation has hit a sore spot and has commanded much attention at county commissioner meetings.  Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell has taken a strong stand regarding this issue.

Sheriff Outlines Problems With a Burning Free-For-All

“Some people say that NoFloCo went through a state burning program that allows them to burn. That’s not accurate,” Mikesell said in a recent statement, outlining this situation further. “The state burning program only allows an individual homeowner to burn. It does not allow for third-party organizations to do burns on private properties because they are not the homeowner.”


The sheriff said that some residents claim that there are certified firefighters as a part of NoFloCo’s program. “This is also not accurate,” Mikesell said. “To be a firefighter, you must work for a fire department under its control and direction, and importantly, its liability insurance. Some people may be trained as firefighters, and may be former firefighters, but the only people who can be considered certified firefighters are those who work for a fire agency.”


According to state statute, the sheriff is also the county’s fire marshal and that his major concern has been people burning piles of slash and fuels that exceed the size allowed by the burn permits. “Some people were burning piles larger than allowed which is an obvious safety hazard,” Mikesell explained. “Even more dangerous is the practice used by NoFloCo to burn ‘snake piles’ which are very long lines where they burn debris and limbs in a successive long pile.”


People are allowed to burn piles that are larger than an 8-foot cube, but they must get written permission from their local fire department before applying for a burn permit. The sheriff said that their office will cite anyone who burns larger piles than allowed without getting permission first.


He also said that the person applying for the permit is responsible for complying with all of the rules and regulations outlined in the burn permit ordinance, and that failure to do so is a criminal offense.

“At this time, the Sheriff’s Office is focused first on educating our community on how to comply with the burn permit ordinance and regulations,” the sheriff’s office’s statement noted. “If we continue to see violations, then we must consider citing individuals with violations of the law. If property owners and homeowners fail to comply with the ordinance and regulations and if the fire were to get out of control, this could be considered as arson and subject to criminal law, regardless of if this was a third-party burn.”

Supporters of No-Flo-Co, though, have cited the positive role their organization plays in helping residents with fire mitigation. This point is emphasized in their website and in comments made at public meetings.


Offering resident assistance

During a recent county commissioner meeting, members of the NoFloCo organization spoke at the public comment session. They said that they want to continue helping others conduct burns on their properties. Moreover, they said they are working on finding insurance companies that will cover them to do so.


The sheriff, however, cautioned the public about using fire as a safe way to mitigate properties. He told the crowd that using burn piles to mitigate is dangerous, and it puts the whole county at risk if something were to go wrong and the fires were to spread.


He mentioned work he has done throughout his career in handling devastating wildfires, such as the Hayman Fire, the Waldo Canyon Fire, the High Chateau Fire and the 403 Fire. Many fires across the state have started from people setting small fires and then the blaze growing to devastating sizes.


Mikesell said that he encourages good fire mitigation practices, but that there are other ways to do it other than burning slash piles. He said that removing slash and fuels from a property and taking it county burn sites or chippers that every fire department in the county has, proves to be a better way to conduct fire mitigation.


He mentioned that when the U.S. Forest Service conducts burns they carefully plan the burns using models. But sometimes even these prescribed burns can get out of control.


“Fire is a dangerous beast—it grows, it lives, and can become larger than life,” Mikesell emphasized. “When you play with fire you can expect to be burned, it’s just a matter of time.”