Obama visits, Fruita & Montrose cancel fireworks as Colorado burns

As President Barack Obama visited Colorado Springs to personally view the most destructive fire in Colorado history, despite the inevitable comparisons to Nero, Fruita and Montrose have cancelled their Fourth of July fireworks displays and Gov. John Hickenlooper has banned the lighting of a single firecracker anywhere in the state due to fire danger.
Most of the national media attention has been focused on the arson-suspected fire near Colorado Springs that has killed one, destroyed 346 homes as well as the historic Flying W Ranch, and caused the evacuation of tens of thousands of Air Force Academy cadets and residents, but on the Western Slope fires are currently burning or have only recently been extinguished near Parachute, DeBeque, Mancos, Craig and the Utah border close to Paradox.
Thus week, Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap revoked the Montrose Rotary Club’s permit to hold its traditional Fourth of July fireworks display and, in lieu of fireworks, Fruita will hold a concert of patriotic music at the municipal Civic Center on July 4 at 7:30 p.m. Also, Delta-Montrose Electric Association announced that fire precautions could cause the restoration of power outages to take much longer.
Several federal and state public lands agencies – including the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, the Bureau of Land Management and the Crawford, Paonia, Sweitzer Lake, Ridgway and Navajo state parks – issued Stage II fire restrictions, meaning a ban on any kind of open flame, charcoal grill, or wood- or coal-fired stove, smoking anywhere outdoors, operating any kind of internal combustion engine (ATV, chainsaw), or using fireworks or any type of explosive or incendiary devices.
Unincorporated Montrose County is also under Stage II fire restrictions following a resolution passed by the Montrose County commissioners at the request of Sheriff Dunlap.
With President Obama in the neighboring city of Colorado Springs, Pueblo’s Tisha Casida, an independent candidate running in the Third Congressional District, took the opportunity to point out that “the Colorado National Guard should not be in Iraq and Afghanistan in fire-fights – they should be fighting fires in our state.”
Casida was critical of a “top-down” federal policy that prevents local communities facing natural disasters from calling on federal resources such as the armed forces until all local and state resources are “exhausted.”
On June 27, Obama signed a $24 million appropriation to build seven new large firefighting aerial tankers, but the nation’s existing fleet of eight C-130s remained grounded due to federal rules governing the use of the nation’s firefighting resources. The new tankers might be available by the end of the summer, officials estimated.
Another Obama critic, former GJResult chairman Tim Fenwick, now a Tea Party of One, blogged “the forest is dead – it’s dead from Rifle to Cheyenne. If the fire that is raging now turns west, it will consume hundreds of thousands of acres.”
With only one lumber mill left operating in the state and anti-logging environmental regulations enforced more heavily than ever by the federal government, dead and dry wood is accumulating in vast quantities in Colorado forests, according to Fenwick.
“Politicians blame the beetle, the environmentalists are blaming everyone but themselves, and I look at our government,” Fenwick wrote. “They have blocked firewood gatherers from harvesting dead wood – they have forbidden roads into the wilderness” that are necessary to fight fires.
“There are so many trees that are dead and down on our own Grand Mesa that you cannot travel across the forest in any kind of a straight line,” Fenwick wrote, referring to a U.S. Forest Service practice of felling trees across forest roads and ATV trails to prevent vehicular access.
Many wildland and forest fires are caused by carelessly discarded cigarette butts. In June 2002, such a cigarette-caused fire burned 73,391 acres near Durango in a disaster that has become known as the Missionary Ridge Fire. In 2006 alone, 263 brush, grass or wildland fires within the state were caused by discarded cigarettes; that was about six percent of the total 4,261 fires. In 2007, Garfield County sheriff’s deputies arrested Nicholas Hatcher, then 26, on fourth-degree arson charges after he allegedly flicked a cigarette into a trash barrel that ultimately caused the 65-acre Gray Barn fire.
The cause of the fire that began in Waldo Canyon that is ravaging the suburbs of Colorado Springs is uncertain but officials will investigate to determine whether arson was involved, El Paso County Undersheriff Paula Presley told a national TV network. She did not specify the type of arson to be investigated.

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