As forest visitation swells, users reminded to tame their campfires, pack out trash

As visitation to National Forest System lands soars, so too does the number of problems with people failing to adhere to campfire and other regulations.

Officials with the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests remind visitors that failing to take care of natural resources jeopardizes those resources and that violations come with hefty fines, up to and including the costs of wildfire suppression associated with illegal campfires.

Parts of the GMUG are under Stage I fire restrictions, as is unincorporated Montrose County.

“It’s a forest-wide problem, however, the Grand Mesa Valley part of the forest is not under fire restrictions. Non-compliance with the fire restrictions is not an issue (there), but it is on the rest of the forest,” said Glen Sachet, a public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

“It’s not just building campfires where they’re not supposed to have them, it’s also abandoning campfires before they are ‘dead out.’”

Despite the restrictions, people continue to build campfires outside of constructed fire grates in developed campgrounds, which are the only places fires are allowed. People are also leaving their campfires unattended, or simply leaving the forest without first ensuring the fire is completely out, with no active flames, embers or hot ash.

“In some cases, it’s just not wanting to follow the rules. Those people get cited,” Sachet said.

Citations for an illegal campfire carry fines of $330 and abandoned campfires mean fines of $230.

“If a person builds an illegal fire and then abandons it, you can add those (fines) together,” Sachet said.

With moisture content in trees and vegetation low because of ongoing drought conditions, it only takes one stray ember being blown by the wind to ignite a wildland fire that destroys resources and brings out fire crews, who face danger.

“It’s a bad idea in a number of ways,” Sachet said.

“Every time we have to send someone out and put out an abandoned campfire, A, we are putting those firefighters at risk and, B, we’re taking resources away from, maybe, a lightning-caused fire. If you think about it, the costs of the citations are very small compared to the cost of putting out a large wildfire.

“ … a human-caused fire, if you know and can prove the source of it, we can go after those people to reimburse the cost of the firefighting effort.”

Also, priceless natural resources are destroyed in fires.

The GMUG’s officials also remind people to take care of their trash — pack it in, pack it out — and to not drive on muddy roads, not to remove nature barriers on closed roads, or enter closed areas.

Driving on soft roadbeds causes rutting and permanent damage to the roads, which may then have to be closed as a result.

“Many, many people are out recreating, which is good. We enjoy seeing people out taking advantage of their public lands,” Sachet said.

“We just ask that they be careful about it and be responsible in how, where and when they build their campfires; be responsible in packing trash out with them, and also stay on designated routes and roads.”

The USFS also reminds users that developed campsites may be harder to come by because of crowds, especially on weekends, so it is best to arrive early.

More information can be found on the USDA website and for the west slope. Report unattended or illegal campfires by calling 911 or Montrose Interagency Fire dispatch, 970-249-1010.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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