By Airman 1st Class William Tracy
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo — With summer in full swing and the risk of wildfires at their peak, Schriever Fire Department personnel are making sure Airmen understand the various stages of fire restrictions as well as the meaning of Red Flag warnings.
“Because of low humidity and increased ambient temperatures, Colorado Springs and the surrounding areas are at a higher danger for wildland fires this year,” said Matthew Rosenbaum, fire inspector with the SFD. “Since January, Colorado Springs has seen over two inches less rain than average, with temperatures 4-6 degrees higher than normal. Higher temperatures and drier conditions lead to an increased risk.”
Red Flag warnings
Red Flag warnings are issued when the National Weather Service has determined weather conditions are optimal for wildfires.
“The National Weather Service issues these warnings and weather watches to alert land management agencies about the onset, or possible onset, of critical weather and fuel moisture conditions that could lead to rapid or dramatic increases in wildfire activity,” said Brad Truver, assistant chief of fire prevention with the SFD. “This could be due to low relative humidity, strong winds, dry fuels, or a combination of these things.”
While Red Flags are warnings of optimal wildfire conditions issued by the NWS at the federal level, fire restrictions are rules primarily put in effect by state or county fire prevention personnel, often for the same reasons Red Flag warnings are issued. Each stage correlates with the risk of wildfires.
Stage I fire restrictions
Stage I fire restrictions are issued when there is an increase in fire danger and/or an increase in preparedness level, and the risks of keeping wildlands open to all activities are outweighed by the risks inherent in doing so.
Stage I fire restrictions prohibit the following activities:
1. Open fire and open burning, except fires and campfires within permanently constructed fire grates, charcoal grills and wood burning stoves in developed campgrounds and picnic grounds, or private residences in areas cleared of all flammable materials.
2. The sale or use of fireworks.
3. Outdoor 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 of and cleared of all flammable material.
Stage II fire restrictions
As risks grows and a risk/benefit assessment is conducted on the economic and social impact increased restrictions can cause fire officials to move to Stage II fire restrictions. This stage intensifies Stage I restrictions focusing on activities that, although normally managed under permit or contract, have a relatively high risk of causing a fire to start. Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado and all of El Paso County are currently under Stage II fire restrictions.
In addition to Stage I prohibitions, the following are prohibited under Stage II:
1. All open fire and open burning, such as vegetation management burning, campfires, warming fires, charcoal grill, wood burning stoves, use of explosives, outdoor welding or using an acetylene or other torch with open flame other than in an areas cleared of all flammable materials, fireworks of all kinds and brands and the prescribed burning of fence lines or rows, fields, farmland, rangeland, wildland, trash and debris. Fires contained within liquid-fueled or gas-fueled grills or gas fueled stoves are permitted.
2. Outdoor smoking except within an enclosed vehicle or building.
Stage III fire restrictions
Stage III is the “closure stage.”
Stage III fire restrictions are issued when there are very high fire risks and the ability to manage these risks under previous restrictions are no longer viable. Officials determine the social, economic and political impacts of implementing a closure at this point are outweighed by the benefits associated with virtually eliminating the potential for human-caused fires.
Areas under the effect of Stage III fire restrictions are closed to all entry other than persons with a written fire entry and activity permit, any federal state, or local officer, or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty or resident owners of land within the closed area.
“The fire restrictions are put in place for a reason, it takes just a spark to ignite a fire,” Truver said.
The Spring Creek fire, currently being contained southwest of Pueblo, Colorado and set to become the second largest wildfire in Colorado’s history, is a warning to the damage disregarding fire restrictions and Red Flag warnings cause.
The fire has consumed more than 107,000 acres was determined to be human caused.
Rosenbaum said this is in line with the increase in wildfire damage caused throughout the U.S. this year.
“There are 15 wildfires recorded throughout the state, and 10 of them are still burning,” he said.
Truver and Rosenbaum agree preventing wildfires is a year-round effort.
“Continue to enjoy your summer; get out in the forest; go fishing, camping and the do all the other summer activities, but keep fire safety in your mind at all times,” Truver said. “It’s a team effort, we all have to be alert for the threat of wildfire throughout the year.”
For more information, contact the SFD at 567-3370.