Fire officials believe fire restrictions are responsible for preventing the next massive wildfire in southern Colorado, preventing campfires, target shooting and cooking depending on the level.
That said, when the restrictions vary from forest to county to city, they can be confusing for visitors and locals alike.
They’re set by the sheriff at the county level, fire chief and city council at the city level, and by the federal agency that owns the impacted federal property. But this year has been a challenge with varying levels across the same area.
"I think this year was unusual and an anomaly to some degree for, in some cases, the Forest Service might be in Stage One and a county might be in Stage Three," said Oscar Martinez, ranger for the Pikes Peak Ranger District of the Pike National Forest.
It comes down to weather. Every entity has its own checklist to enact the restrictions.
"It’s pretty systematic. We look at kind of where the moisture levels are with the fuels. We look at what the weather’s doing. We look at what resources are available to us," Martinez said.
But every area is also getting differing amounts of rain. The systems we’ve had have been highly localized, meaning the rain levels vary from forest to county to city, even among neighborhoods.
"Day to day, it’s great to get some fluctuation. We’re getting some rain. We’re getting some dry conditions. Restrictions are for a long-term period, and when we look at that, it’s based on the long-term predictive services, predicted weather and forecast weather," said Jeremy Taylor, wildfire mitigation specialist for the Colorado Springs Fire Department.
That’s where the confusion lies, what restrictions do you follow if you’re on federal land that has one set of restrictions, inside a county that has different restrictions in place?
The Forest Service told News 5 it’s partnering with the 17 counties with land from the Pike and San Isabel National Forests within them to be on the same page in terms of enforcement. Several entities, like the Forest Service, Woodland Park and Teller County, have downgraded and/or dropped their restriction levels already this week, though our fire season is far from over.
"Even though we are getting those afternoon rains, days like today when it’s hot and windy, we need to have that heightened awareness, and we’re really back to square one, even we got some pretty healthy rains last weekend," Taylor said.
In the future, the Forest Service recommends all visitors research the restrictions for the area they plan to visit, including differences between the county and federal restrictions. Then, they say it’s best to use common sense.