by M.Diane Bairstow

Firefighter dousing the flames at the Twin View Overlook fire. Sheriff Norris inclined his head toward the fire and said; "This was not caused by lightning."

On June 16, the day after the Sheriff enacted a Level 1 Fire Ban, 3 fires of suspicious origin were started in the Crestone area approximately 30 minutes apart. An hour later, another fire erupted east of Saguache, and 1 1/2 hours later, another west of Saguache was started. These fires are under investigation by the Saguache County Sheriff’s Depart and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as all but one fire was started on public lands.
The first fire was called in at 3:32pm at S. Crestone Campground and .2 acre burned. At 4:04pm another call came in at N. Crestone Campground, and .1acre burned. Then at 4:25 a third call sent firefighters to Twin View Overlook in the Baca, and .1 acre burned. Then at 5:21 another call came in east of Saguache on BLM road 5300, and it burned 5 to 7 acres; at 6:50pm at Ute Springs on Co. Rd. AA just west of Saguache another fire was reported that burned .3 acre.
All fires were started near roadways, and none involved structures. On June 17, Lieutenant Mark Wertz said that Sheriff Mike Norris had been on the road all day looking for evidence and would continue following up this investigation. The BLM is also investigating, as all but one of these fires were started on public lands, making it a Federal offense.  The Sheriff’s department will be stepping up patrols in our area and will be on the lookout for behavior of this sort.
The quick, professional and well-trained response of our volunteer fire departments prevented what could have been a tragedy of enormous proportions. The Twin View Overlook fire, out on the edge of the Baca and right below the Stupa road, could easily have taken off up the mountain and there would have been no stopping it. Or if the wind shifted, it could have spread to nearby homes. With the mutual aid and combined efforts of the Baca, Crestone, Villa Grove, Saguache, Center, Moffat and U.S. Forest Service working in concert, the Crestone/Baca area and areas near Saguache were saved from a potential disaster.  Once again, this community is indebted to the selfless efforts of those of our fire departments who volunteer many hours training to avert disaster.
Special thanks also to Martin Macaulay, Steve Smilack and Eddy Bieg.  Martin was walking his dog in Casita Park when he saw smoke. He stopped at the first house and asked them to call the Sheriff, then followed the smoke up to Twin View Overlook. He knocked on Steve’s door where Eddy was visiting. The three of them took shovels and contained the blaze in the original location and also at another site where the fire had jumped.  They continued their efforts until the fire department arrived and took over.
Be extra vigilant, and if you see smoke, be sure to report it immediately, and if you see any suspicious activity, call the Sheriff’s Department at 655-2525, or Crime Stoppers at 589-4111 where you can remain anonymous and possibly receive a reward.

Saguache County has issued Level 1 Fire Restrictions
The following actions are prohibited:
1.    Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, or any type of charcoal-fueled broiler or barbeque grill, burning ditches, fencerows and trash, including household trash.
2.    Using explosive material, i.e. fireworks, blasting caps and incendiary device which may result in ignition of flammable material.
3.    Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building.
4.    Welding or operating an acetylene or similar torch with an open flame.
The following actions are permitted:
1.    Fires including stoves within enclosed buildings or recreational vehicles and chainsaws, which are equipped with adequate spark arresting screens, which prevent the escape of sparks.
2.    Mechanical stoves and appliances fueled by bottled or liquid gas, which allow the operator to turn the flame on and off, are permitted.
As provided by Colorado Statute, any person responsible for starting a fire while the ban is in effect will be held accountable for damages caused as well as fire suppression costs incurred.

Fire Restrictions on the Rio Grande
National Forest
The San Luis Valley Public Lands Center initiated Stage 1 fire restrictions, starting June 20, on the Rio Grande National Forest.  Stage 1 Fire Restrictions are already in place on BLM-managed lands in the San Luis Valley and the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
“We have been continually monitoring the fire danger on the Rio Grande National Forest and although there is still snow in the high country, very little green-up has occurred and conditions on most of the forest are very dry,” said Paul Duarte, fire operations specialist for the SLV Public Lands Center.
Stage 1 Fire Restrictions prohibit:
1.    All open fires, campfires, or stove fires unless in an established fire grate in a developed campground.   Petroleum-fueled stoves, such as propane grills and white gas camping stoves are allowed.
2.    Operating an internal combustion engine, such as a chainsaw, without a spark arresting device properly installed and effectively working.
3.    Welding or operating an acetylene torch or other torch with an open flame.
4.    Smoking, unless 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 or cleared of all flammable material.
As always, the use of explosives and incendiary devices, including fireworks, are prohibited on federal lands.
For more information, contact the San Luis Valley Public Lands Center at 719-852-5941 or any other federal land management office in the San Luis Valley.