The Heat Is Online

Drought-Stricken Colorado Prepares for Summer

COLORADO: Parched state Prepares

MSNBC.com, May 18, 2002

May 15, 2002 - As one of Colorado's worst droughts in decades continues to tighten its grip, more municipalities are shutting off the tap, dousing outdoor fires -- and now, threatening a most basic national pastime: Fourth of July fireworks.

In Lafayette, officials say the situation is so dire that without action, the city could find itself completely out of water before next spring. They will consider adopting an emergency water-saving project next week.

Farther south, Douglas County on Tuesday joined a growing list of counties imposing strict fire restrictions on residents, particularly in unincorporated areas and recreational settings.

Pike and San Isabel national forests also established fire restrictions Tuesday, curtailing open fires during the prolonged drought as five other national forests and three grasslands have already.

Denver, which is asking its 1 million customers to cut consumption by 10 percent, announced Tuesday it would keep all its fountains dry this summer to save water. The Denver Water Board meets today to consider other measures.

Elsewhere in the capital city, Gov. Bill Owens said he is considering imposing a statewide ban on open fires -- and possible restrictions on Fourth of July fireworks -- if rains don't materialize in force.

Owens said he would prefer to let local officials decide on any fireworks bans.

Some already have, including Colorado Springs and now Douglas County, where fines of up to $600 await anyone violating the ban on open burning, campfires, charcoal grills outside developed areas and unlicensed fireworks displays.

Owens said his contemplated fire ban is "a work in progress."

"My staff is reviewing the question right now of whether I should impose such a ban," he said during a teleconference phone call to radio and television stations and print media. "I'm not ready to speculate on what I might do."

He noted that 25 of Colorado's 64 counties have imposed countywide bans on open fires.

"I'm always reluctant to super-impose my decision on those of county commissioners," he said. "But if a statewide ban would provide more uniformity and more certainty that fires wouldn't move across county lines, it's something that I would do."

Two years ago, Owens barred the federal government from starting controlled burns during a record fire season.

Last month, he asked for federal designation of the entire state as a drought area after Colorado recorded the lowest snowpack levels in two decades. The federal designation would make ranchers and farmers eligible for grants and low-interest loans.

After a dry winter, more than 443 wildfires have burned about 22,937 acres in Colorado this year, according to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordinating Center of the National Interagency Fire Center.

Jefferson County commissioners will review a proposal May 21 that would limit the length of new cul-de-sacs and require developers to thin forests and vegetation around them in an area of the county susceptible to wildfires.

The changes would make homes on the cul-de-sacs easier for firefighters to reach and reduce fire-prone vegetation.

The county has approved several other rules to prevent fires and make blazes easier to fight.

Owens said he will wait several weeks before making a decision about Fourth of July celebrations.