Gunnison County lifted its fire restrictions on Tuesday, July 31, just days after the Forest Service lifted fire restrictions in the Gunnison National Forest and one day before the Bureau of Land Management followed suit. For the first time since May, there are no fire restrictions in place in Gunnison County.
Gunnison fire marshal Dennis Spritzer put it simply: “It’s time.” Spritzer acknowledged that this year’s monsoons have been weaker than normal, but also said there have been some good storms around the valley. Humidity is up, and fuel moisture has stayed around 10 percent to 11 percent. So while the valley is technically still experiencing drought conditions, the 30-day forecast is showing signs of improvement and the valley’s fire experts recommended the county commissioners lift the fire ban. A July 26 statement from the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests confirmed that moisture content has improved: “Within the Gunnison and most of the Uncompahgre National Forests, recent precipitation has caused the moisture content of forest vegetation to return to normal, and in some cases, above normal ‘fuel moisture content.’” In a meeting with the county commissioners, sheriff Rick Besecker added that in addition to improved weather conditions, “The general public is well educated and they have been behaving very well.” “I have no problem with it at this point in time. We always defer to you guys to advise us on these things,” said Commissioner Hap Channell. “I’m just a little cautious because I don’t want this to be a yo-yo kind of a thing and three weeks from now we’re all going ‘Oops.’” The group understood Channell’s concern but indicated they were all in agreement based on conversations with the other agencies and current weather patterns. Brian St. George, Gunnison field manager for the BLM, offered an additional perspective. “One consideration is the resources that are available. Even if we keep a ban in place, something still has chance of breaking out. The important thing at this point is that we’re moving past peak fire season,” St. George said. “The resources are there to respond if something breaks out. In Gunnison, earlier in the fire season, that’s where we were weakest. The resources went everywhere else.” Now, however, as national and regional fire preparedness levels have dropped, those resources have become available locally. That made sense to the commissioners, who made a motion to lift the fire ban completely as of July 31.