As wildfires pick up in Western Colorado, towns hope tourists stay fire wise

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BASALT, Colo. (KDVR) — Thick smoke across the skies of Western Colorado serves as a grim reminder of the challenges local officials face once again, hoping every person that enters the backcountry is aware of how delicate the wildlands have become.

Still in an extreme drought, most of western Colorado is in a stage one fire ban.

“So many times, these situations are human caused, and so we just want people to be educated and extra careful,” said Heidi Pankow with Visit Glenwood Springs. “I think it’s always uncomfortable to see smoke in the air, no matter what time of the year it is. That typically does indicate that there is a situation happening.”

There are currently seven active fires in the state, as of Monday morning.

“Mornings are pretty clear and as the day progresses the air quality lessens,” said Kris Mattera with Basalt Chamber of Commerce. “We go from clear skies to a little bit hazier out. You also tend to notice when there are more particles out in the air from smoke or other materials, and crazy sunsets. Yesterday was the longest day of the year, we saw this bright orange like ball in the sky at sunset.”

Glenwood Springs and Basalt are among the many areas in Western Colorado with hazy skies already this summer. As the number of tourists coming into their area continues to increase, the top priority is ensuring everyone headed to the backcountry knows how to properly put out their campfires and even their cigarettes. 

“A couple months ago the concern was, what are the public health orders? Now that has transitioned into, do we have a stage one fire ban? Please be smart if you are deciding to camp,” urged Mattera.

Both Mattera and Pankow tell FOX31 that historically, most wildfires in their areas are human caused and completely preventable. It’s why they hope everyone stays educated on camping and hiking etiquette. They also encourage people to check with the local county or municipality they are traveling to, as rules for campfires are different depending on where you are.

Some areas also offer text alerts for campers to stay notified if there’s an emergency or evacuation order.

“If you look at it historically how things have been trending over the past couple years as climate changes, and we keep having drought and extreme weather, it becomes clear that wildfires are going to become part of that process in the same way that we see super storms in other parts of the country and world,” Mattera explained.

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