Fire ban is back on

on burning back

A countywide fire ban was reinstated Monday by the Montezuma County commissioners.

The ordinance prohibits the use of fireworks and open fires including burn barrels, camp fires, trash burning, and yard debris burning. The ban includes fires at commercial campgrounds.

"It's time for the ban, and the Cortez fire chief agrees," said Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell.

Out-of-control "controlled" burns and reckless behavior wreaked havoc in the county last year, causing the Roatcap and Weber Fires. The sheriff's office is working on an improved system for tracking fires during the ban and when it is not in place.

"If the Weber Fire had been reported earlier, it would have saved the county $1 million," Spruell said.

Dry fuels and hot, windy conditions with low humidity have prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag fire warning.

A Red Flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will shortly. A combination of strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures contribute to extreme fire behavior.

There is a ban on the use of fireworks but not the sale of them. There has been consideration of banning the sale of fireworks in the county, officials reported, but it has not been done.

"It occurred to me that if there was a ban on selling of fireworks, and they were sold and started a fire, the vendor could be charged with accessary to a crime," Spruell said.

The Dolores Public Lands office has not issued fire restrictions yet, officials reported, but they are expected to enact stage one restrictions banning dispersed fires soon.

The Black Forest Fire in a heavily wooded residential area northeast of Colorado Springs burned 40 to 60 houses after it broke out Tuesday and prompted evacuations of about 2,300 homes, affecting about 6,400 people, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said.

A wildfire forced the evacuation of more than 900 prisoners at a state prison southwest of Colorado Springs early Wednesday, one of four blazes along Colorado's Front Range that destroyed dozens of homes and forced thousands of people to flee.

In northeastern New Mexico, the Thompson Ridge fire has burned nearly 36 square miles in the western portion of the Santa Fe National Forest and in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. It's 50 percent contained.

The Silver fire in southwestern New Mexico, started by lightning last Friday, continues to grow, now having burned 13 square miles and is now within a half-mile of the small community of Kingston.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.