Aspen cancels fireworks; area fire restrictions are likely

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

With fires continuing to burn on the Western Slope and elsewhere in Colorado, and little moisture forecast for the valley in the near future, Aspen officials have canceled the Fourth of July fireworks for the second straight year.

The Roaring Fork Valley, still in the grips of moderate drought conditions, could see the implementation of fire restrictions as soon as Thursday, said Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine.

“I think everyone’s starting to get a little nervous, and justifiably so,” he said.

Decreasing moisture-content levels in trees, which was discussed in an interagency conference call Monday with the valley’s fire chiefs and staff from the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, was a factor in the fireworks decision, Balentine said.

A briefing from the Upper Colorado Interagency Fire Management Unit, which is comprised of, among other agencies, the White River National Forest, underscores fire officials’ thinking.

“Recent hot, dry weather for the past few weeks indicates that we should be planning for the possibility of fire restrictions on private as well as federal lands,” the briefing memo says.

Balentine said he expects the BLM to implement a stage one restriction Thursday. That would restrict fires to permanent fire grates in developed campgrounds.

Aspenites alarmed by smoke rolling down Independence Pass on Sunday had the local fire department’s phones “ringing off the hook,” Balentine said. The smoke was actually from a 1,000-acre fire south of Buena Vista.

Aspen firefighters are taking the added step of patrolling the fire district, looking for smoke and advising homeowners on efforts they can take to protect their residences, Balentine said.

With falling moisture levels in trees, the “energy-release component” (ERC), which indicates how hot a fire could burn, has skyrocketed at weather stations near Rifle and Gypsum, the briefing memo says.

“Higher-elevation [weather] stations are showing a similar steep increase in ERCs but are not yet approaching critical levels,” according to the memo.

Carbondale, like Aspen, also will go without holiday fireworks for the second time in as many years, said Fire Chief Ron Leach.

“It’s more a matter of we’ve run out of places to do it,” he said.

The former location on White Hill now has two schools and a church underneath it, Leach said.

Glenwood Springs is planning a fireworks display, having moved the location this year from the recreation center to Two Rivers Park, said Fire Chief Gary Tillotson.

Fireworks at the former location were getting “a little too close for comfort to the gambel oak brush,” he said.

At next week’s display, the fireworks shells will be launched over the Colorado River.

Snowmass Village no longer has fireworks due to previous years’ fire danger and liability issues; the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt still plans to have a display over a lake at the golf course.

The valley’s fire chiefs will meet today to discuss coordinating local fire restrictions with ones handed down from the federal level, Balentine said.

“We all talk pretty much on a daily basis at this time of the year,” he said.

chad@aspendailynews.com