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Open burn restrictions in effect

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Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

An increase in drought and lack of moisture has led both the Weston County fire warden and Bureau of Land Management officials to implement open burning restrictions across Weston County, according to recent releases.

“Due to a potentially severe to extreme fire situation throughout Weston County, created by heavy fuel load and dry conditions, which could create situations that over-extend the fire-fighting capability of local government, the Open Burning Restrictions will take effect March 20, 2024,” the notice from Fire Warden Daniel Tysdal says.

Almost simultaneously, BLM implemented stage 1 fire restrictions for BLM-administered public lands in Crook, Weston and Niobrara counties effective March 22, a release dated the same day states.

“Last summer’s moisture and cool weather brought an abundance of grass and other fuels to public lands within the district,” said Craig Short, High Plains District fire management officer, in the release. “This, in combination with the lack of moisture and warm, windy weather we’re experiencing, has created an environment susceptible to wildfire.”

The dry situations being experienced across northeast Wyoming have arisen suddenly, as the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that 100% of Weston County is currently listed as being in at least D0 drought or abnormally dry, while three months ago 100% of the county was drought free. At the same time, Crook County is listed as being 100% in drought, while 70.80% of Niobrara County is listed as being in drought.

A further breakdown shows that 63.1% of Weston County is listed as D1 or moderate drought and 7.01% is listed as D2 or severe drought.

According to the National Weather Service, D0 drought is categorized as “going into drought, short-term dryness slowing planting, growth of crops and pastures; fire risk above average. Coming out of drought, some lingering water deficits, pastures or crops not fully recovered.”

D1 drought is listed as “some damage to crops, pastures, fire risk high; streams, reservoirs or wells low, some water shortage developing or imminent, voluntary water use restrictions requested,” and D2 drought is described as “crop or pasture loss likely, fire risk very high, water shortages common, water restrictions imposed.”

Under open burn stage 1 restrictions, Weston County does not allow the discharge of fireworks and prohibits all outdoor fires in “unimproved” areas of the county, except as provided:

• Only campfires at residences or campsites, within a fire ring centered within a minimum of a 15-foot- cleared radius of burnable materials are permitted.

• Trash or refuse fires between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., inside containers provided with a spark arrester and located within a cleared radius of a minimum of 15 feet of burnable materials are permitted.

• Charcoal fires within enclosed grills are permitted.

• Use of acetylene cutting, electric arc welders, or metal grinding in a cleared radius of 15 feet of burnable materials is permitted.

• The use of portable stoves, lanterns using gas, jellied petroleum, pressurized liquid fuel or fully enclosed (sheepherder type) stove and open fire branding activities in a cleared radius of 15 feet of burnable materials is permitted.

Some persons are exempt from the imposed restrictions, including federal, state or local officers engaged in fire, emergency and law enforcement activities and any member of rescue or fire-fighting force engaged in the performance of an official duty.

Further exemptions to these restrictions and closures can be made by the Weston County commissioners, the notice states.

“These restrictions do not include the areas within incorporated cities and towns in Weston County or federal and state lands, as these entities may impose more or less restrictive regulations,” the notice states.

Anyone violating these restrictions may be in violation of Wyoming Statute 35-9-304, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and up to a $100 fine or both. Punishment may also include restitution for the cost of fire suppression and damages caused to others.

BLM restrictions prohibited, according to the press release, are:

• Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire except within agency-provided fire grates at developed recreation sites, or within fully enclosed stoves with a quarter-inch spark arrester-type screen, or within fully enclosed grills, or in stoves using pressurized liquid or gas.

• Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.

• Operating a chain saw without a USDA- or SAE-approved spark arrester properly installed and working, a chemical fire extinguisher of not less than 8 ounces capacity by weight, and one round point shovel with an overall length of at least 36 inches.

• Using a welder, either arc or gas, or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame, except in cleared areas of at least 10 feet in diameter with a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher of not less than eight ounces capacity.

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