Fire dept: learn before you burn

Wildfire season may be a ways off, but outdoor burning has kept local fire crews busy this winter.

“Winter is actually a good time to burn because the temperatures are lower, and there’s usually moisture on the ground,” Scot Davis, Community Education Coordinator for the Durango Fire Protection District, said. “But with that goes a lot of extra precautions.”

Just because conditions may be ideal for getting rid of that slash pile on the back 40 or hosting an impromptu bonfire, Davis said there are a few rules that must be followed. For starters, under state law, all residents of La Plata County (or any other county with more than 40 percent forested land) are required to obtain a permit prior to burning vegetation. The only exceptions are owners of lands classified as agricultural by the County Tax Assessor, who are not required to obtain a burn permit.

Davis said in addition to helping ensure fires stay under control, the permit system also helps firefighters keep tabs on what fires are controlled and what ones are not.

Over the last few weeks, firefighters have responded to a number of calls – including a recent one at Turtle Lake – only to discover they are controlled burns. Likewise, the opposite can often occur, with out-of-control fires going unreported because they are presumed to be slash or agricultural fires.

“We have had a lot of issues lately with crews called out on burns that are controlled and not getting called out on things that are bad,” he said. “It takes a lot of time and resources to respond to these calls.”

As a result, Davis reminds residents wanting to burn to apply for a permit, which is free, from the DFPD. “The permit process is easy. People just need to come in and fill out a piece of paper,” he said.

Residents can download an application at, fill it out and bring it in, or fill one out at DFPD headquarters, 104 Sheppard Drive. Permits are reviewed between 12 noon - 4:30 p.m., Monday, Wednesday or Friday. All applications must be signed.

Once approved, permits are good for one year from date of issue, and can be renewed via phone. Residents are asked to call Central Dispatch, 385-2900, the day they burn and have their permit number handy. In the case of the recent Turtle Lake burn, the resident had a permit, but forgot to inform dispatch and also broke another rule by not being present during the burn. 

According to the rules, all fires must be attended by an adult. Furthermore, burn piles are restricted to no more than 4 feet-by-4 feet and the material burned is limited to natural vegetation (or agricultural products, in the case of ag lands) less than 6 inches in diameter. This includes bonfires and recreational fires. The burning of coated or treated wood, tree stumps, cut lumber, construction debris, plastic, tires, rubber, furniture or chemical products is prohibited under state law.

Furthermore, permit holders are required to:

- Have the signed permit on hand and furnish to any fire or law enforcement officer upon request;

- Keep the fire under control and supervised by an adult at all times;

- Have adequate tools and water to control the fire;

- Check the weather report prior to burning;

- Burn only one 4-foot-by-4-foot pile at a time;

- Create fire breaks ahead of the fire when burning ditches or acreage

- Exercise reasonable caution and concern of an “ordinarily prudent and rational person;”

- Burn only approved material (no refrigerators, oil, plastics, etc.)

- Attempt to complete the burn prior to late-morning/early-afternoon winds;

- Extinguish all burns by dark.

Burns greater in size may require a State of Colorado smoke permit in addition to the permit from the Durango Fire Protection District.

Within the City of Durango, no open burning is permitted other than recreational fires (3 feet-by-2 feet) for cooking and warming (i.e. charcoal and propane grills, chimineas, outdoor firepans, etc).

For questions or more information, call Davis at 382-6014.

Airport to unveil terminal designs

Members of the public are invited to get a sneak peak and weigh in on the future of the Durango-La Plata County Airport. Next Wed., Jan 21, from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at the Durango Transit Center, 250 W.8th St., airport officials will unveil three proposed designs for the new terminal.

The three alternatives are part of the airport’s 20-year master plan.

Members of the public are also invited to take a behind-the-scenes- tour of the airport. “Go Where Your Bags Go” tours are offered the first Thursday of each month from 2:30-3:30 p.m. Tours are limited in size and people are encouraged to sign up ahead of time at

For more information on the tour or the proposed terminal redesigns, call 970-382-6050.

Missy Votel