According to Zachary Lowe, a recreation specialist with the U.S. Forest Service office in Moab, current conditions are extremely dry and fire warnings are already at “High.”
“There is a very high probability that there will be an early and lengthy fire ban this year ... depending on future weather conditions this ban may be in place as early as the beginning of next week,” Lowe stated in a press release.“The La Sals had an 85 percent snow pack this year, while the Abajos and Elk Ridge had less than 35 percent snow pack ... following a dry spring thus far. This ban will be effective for all users, public and commercial permittees.”
Fire bans and area closures come in various stages. There are two fire restriction stages: Stage I and Stage II. There is one closure stage: Stage III. In a Stage I ban, building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire except within a developed recreation site or improved site is prohibited. Also, smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials is not allowed.
Operating or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark-arresting device properly installed, maintained, and in effective working order is also banned under a Stage I situation.
“The first stage occurs when there is an increasing fire danger and/or an increasing preparedness level, and the risks of keeping the forest open to all activities begins to be outweighed by the risks inherent in doing so,” Lowe stated. “Stage I imposes relatively minor restrictions aimed at preventing the start of wildfires based on human activities that are known to be high risk, specifically smoking and campfires.”
In Stage II, there is a total ban on building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire or campfire; smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building; possessing, discharging, or using any kind of firework or other pyrotechnic device; using an explosive, and operating a chainsaw or other equipment powered by an internal combustion engine between 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. Welding or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame is also forbidden in Stage II.
“As the risks increase, [officials] may choose to move to Stage II,” Lowe added. “This stage intensifies the restrictions from Stage I by focusing on activities that, although normally managed under permit or contract, have a relatively high risk of causing a fire start. Restrictions under Stage II will affect forest users and will have economic impacts to contractors, permittees and others.”
If conditions worsen to a point where a closure — or Stage III — is required, an area is closed to all persons not possessing a written fire entry and activity permit that specifically authorizes the otherwise prohibited act. This may include grazing-permit holders when entry is needed to gather, move, or otherwise manage their permitted livestock, and special-use authorization holders when access is needed to maintain emergency or other communications operations.
“The Manti-La Sal [forest] will probably go into Stage I, and possibly Stage II, however, Stage III is a full closure of the forest, which is both highly unlikely and logistically hard,” Lowe added. “If such restrictions are put into place ... information will be posted in newspapers, online, around town and on the forest.”
For more information on current conditions in the area go to drought.gov. For groundwater and soil moisture conditions in the region and nationwide, visit nasagrace.unl.edu.