Dry heat, high winds and more human-caused fires are among the reasons local fire officials elected to move Mesa County into Stage 1 Fire Restrictions this week.
Rather than just sending out a press release, Mesa County Sheriff Matthew Lewis along with officials with the Bureau of Land Management and Grand Junction Fire Department announced the decision at a press conference Thursday.
Lewis said announcing the decision together in-person helped them convey the level of concern they all had.
“We didn’t feel the message could be conveyed in a simple press release," Lewis said. "The vegetation is dry, there’s no weather in the forecast that will bring us relief and I think the educational component is really important in order to stress our need for people to take responsibility in their own personal recreation.”
The Stage 1 Fire Restriction went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today, a week before Fourth of July festivities are set to begin. The restrictions apply to all of Mesa County with the exception of U.S. Forest Service land. The decision was made as much because of what fire officials have seen so far this year as it was with what they expect to see heading into July.
“Our wildfire calls are up 262% from what they were last year,” GJFD Deputy Chief Chris Angermuller said. “As of yesterday we’ve had 89 wildfires.”
In fact, not long after the press conference on Thursday, lightning near Rough Canyon sparked another small fire that drew the attention of wildfire crews. No structures were threatened, according to the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, but it adds to a growing list of burns this season.
These fires have ranged from urban wildfires like the one started along Grand Avenue Bridge on Wednesday night that required GJFD and MCSO Wildland Fire Team response to larger ones in remote area such as the series of lightning-caused fires that started on June 5, which required BLM helicopters and other resources. Mesa County has seen an uptick with 15 Red Flag Warnings thus far this year.
Lathan Johnson, with the BLM Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit, which includes the Grand Junction BLM Field Office, said his office has been responding to a lot of wildfires the past few weeks, a lot of which have been human-caused fires such as ones caused by campfires and recreational shooting.
"We are starting to see more human-caused fires," according to BLM Grand Junction Field Manager Greg Wolfgang. "The recent hot and dry conditions and no forecast for significant moisture in the next few weeks pose greater fire risk. We want everyone to be cautious on the upcoming holiday weekend while enjoying public lands."
During Stage 1 Fire Restrictions, the open burning of yard waste or fields is prohibited expect for agricultural burns with a sheriff-issued burn permit. Causing a fire during fire restrictions can result in felony charges with fines up to $100,000 and imprisonment.
“When we enact fire restrictions we can focus on lightning caused fires and lessen the potential that we are responding to too many,” Johnson added.