Last spring, Falcon was hit by several rounds of severe winter weather that closed schools, shut down local roadways and stranded numerous motorists. This year, there was little to no precipitation during most of February and March. Ongoing high fire danger prompted the National Weather Service to issue multiple days of fire weather warnings. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office implemented Stage 1 burn restrictions March 16.
Even after the March 24 blizzard, fire danger will remain a concern in El Paso County through the spring and summer. Constant advisories about fire weather can seem tedious to some residents, but they are important for keeping the community safe. So what do fire weather watches, warnings and burn restrictions mean?
Fire weather watches and warnings
The National Weather Service (http://nws.noaa.gov/om/fire/ww.shtml) issues fire weather alerts to inform firefighting and land management agencies that weather conditions are ideal for wildfires to ignite and spread. However, in recent years these watches and warnings have also been widely publicized to caution the public against activities that could start fires.
Fire weather conditions are determined by established criteria, including the moisture content of vegetation (fuels), low relative humidity, warm temperatures and strong winds. NWS uses the following terminology:
Fire Weather Watch: Weather conditions that could result in critical fire weather conditions are expected to develop in the next 12 to 48 hours, but not more than 72 hours.
A fire weather watch equates to being prepared. Use caution with outdoor activities that could spark a fire.
Red Flag Warning: Issued when critical fire conditions are ongoing or expected to occur within the next 24 hours. Outside fires can ignite easily and spread rapidly.
A Red Flag Warning equates to taking action. Outside/open fires are not permitted under Red Flag conditions. Residents should avoid any activity that could ignite a fire such as welding, motorized off-road travel and firearms use. Cigarette butts and other smoking materials should be disposed of properly, and not tossed out of vehicles.
Burn restrictions are issued by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office during times of ongoing high fire danger. The deputy fire marshal for the county is responsible for monitoring fire danger conditions and coordinating with federal, state and local fire agencies to determine appropriate stages of restrictions.
El Paso County Ordinance 15-001, which regulates open burning in unincorporated areas of the county, restricts and prohibits activities that could cause a wildfire. These regulations apply to urbanized areas, as well as forests and grasslands.
Stage 1 burn restrictions prohibit
- 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
- The sale or use of fireworks
- Outdoor smoking except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren of and cleared of all flammable materials
Stage 2 burn restrictions prohibit
- All open fire and open burning (Limited exemptions listed in Section 10 of the county open burning ordinance do not apply to most people.)
- The sale or use of fireworks
- Outdoor smoking except within an enclosed vehicle or building
Spring outlook for fire danger
Don’t expect overall fire weather conditions to improve much any time soon. While April is typically a snowy month in Colorado, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center estimates that drought conditions will persist for much of southeastern Colorado, including El Paso County, through June 30. Dry conditions lead to parched and dead vegetation fuels, which in turn increases the risk of a serious wildfire.
The Falcon Fire Protection District encourages everyone to heed fire weather advisories and use common sense. Enjoy the nice weather, but please remember that just because something is permitted under a burn restriction doesn’t mean it is a good idea.
Annual Easter Egg Hunt
The Easter Bunny is coming to town! Falcon’s firefighters will team up with Woodmen Hills for the annual children’s Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday, April 15, at 11 a.m. at FFPD Fire Station 1, 12072 Royal County Down Road. Children will be divided by age groups, and the finders of five special eggs will receive a prize. Woodmen Hills is providing a bounce house, and Jimmy John’s is supplying sample sandwiches. This event is free to the public.
Save the Date: Station 4 Grand Opening
Construction is wrapping up on FFPD Station 4. The public grand opening will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 13, at 2710 Capital Drive, Colorado Springs. Details coming soon.
Stay connected with the FFPD
Facebook: Falcon Fire Department