Snow and fire hazards are two ideas that don’t immediately connect in people’s minds. However, the snowy season can be just as dangerous as dry summer months when it comes to campfires.
If you are planning on doing some camping before the snow melts this year, or if you are burning debris, it’s important to understand what is still considered winter fire safety. Failure to properly contain your fire can lead to some major legal consequences in the form of arson charges.
Understanding Winter Fire Safety in Colorado
Many people can be led into a false sense of security by the snow on the ground. They believe that the moisture from the snow will keep any fires from spreading. This isn’t entirely true, though — snow isn’t always enough to keep the fire from spreading.
For this reason, it’s important to follow the same fire safety procedures that you would during the summer.
Check Fire Restrictions First
Even during winter months, there may be fire restrictions in place in parts of Colorado. It is important that you check for any restrictions before you start a campfire. The best way to do this is by checking the Colorado Emergency Management website.
They will have information on each county and any fire restrictions that are in effect. If you are in an area with no fire restrictions, follow the below safety tips for your campfire.
Use Safe Burning Sites
Before you set up a campfire, even during the winter, you need to choose a site that is safe and appropriate for a campfire. This means a location away from buildings and other potential hazards.
There won’t always be snow on the ground during winter months. If you are in an area without snow, avoid dry brush or other areas with dry vegetation
Control Your Fire
Just as you would during summer months or in dry conditions, you need to control your fire. This applies whether there is snow on the ground or you are in an area that is dry.
For campfires, this means you need to prepare it within a safety zone. It’s a good idea to keep your fire within a circle surrounded by rocks. Always make sure it doesn’t get out of hand by getting too high or letting off sparks.
To help with keeping things under control, carry water with you that can be used to put out your fire should it start to grow too large. This is especially important if there isn’t snow on the ground in the area you are camping in.
Don’t Leave Your Fire Burning
When camping, it can be tempting to leave your fire going throughout the night. The problem with this is that you won’t know if something happens. You need to make sure your fire is out before you go to sleep or leave the area.
Before going to bed, pour water over any wood or coals you are using as tinder. Mix the burnt remains with the soil to help smother out any embers that could spread in the wind, then pour more water over this.
Make sure that the fire is completely extinguished before leaving the area or going to bed.
The Consequences of a Stray Fire in Colorado
If you are responsible for starting a campfire that gets out of control, you could be charged with 4th-degree arson.
Under the Colorado Revised Statutes, this includes:
“A person who knowingly or recklessly starts or maintains a fire or causes an explosion, on his own property or that of another, and by so doing places another in danger of death or serious bodily injury or places any building or occupied structure of another in danger of damage commits fourth-degree arson.”
The punishment for committing fourth-degree arson is as follows:
- If a person is endangered by the fire, the crime is a class 4 felony.
- If only property is endangered, and the property is valued at one hundred dollars or more, the crime is a class 2 misdemeanor.
- In the event that only property is endangered, and the property is valued at less than one hundred dollars, the crime is a class 3 misdemeanor.
Ultimately, the burden is on you to make sure that any campfires you start are under control. Remember, just because you are starting a fire in the winter months doesn’t mean it can’t get out of control. Always follow proper fire safety procedures and make sure to observe any restrictions to avoid potentially major consequences.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.