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How do fire restrictions work and can you still have campfires?
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How do fire restrictions work and can you still have campfires?

In the wake of the last few years, it’s likely clear that fire restrictions are a “necessary evil”. Whether you’re a concerned citizen wondering what these restrictions mean for the weekends you planned at the deer camp or an official weighing the options and making the call, enacting fire restrictions means making a concession for the greater good. 

While fire restrictions aren’t truly “evil”—again, they're for the greater good after all—they can be inconvenient. Placing a county under fire restriction can cause certain businesses operating in the area to take financial hits. It can be economically strenuous at most and, if you’re an average joe just wanting to camp for the weekend or throw some dogs on the BBQ, fire restrictions can be downright confusing at least. 

Can you go camping during stage one fire restrictions? What about stage 2? Is it even safe and legal to throw those dogs on the barbie or am I going to get nailed with a fine?

Despite the sacrifices, I think we’ve all seen enough uncontained wildfires blazing through the western US over the past few years to pick up (or put down. . .) the torch passed to us from the great and powerful Smokey Bear.

ONLY YOU (and me, and us. . . All of us, together!) can prevent wildfires. 


But first, it takes an understanding of what it means to do your part. That starts with deciphering the, somewhat fluid and often perplexing, expectations put forth when fire restrictions are in play. 

How do Stage One and Stage Two Fire Restrictions work?

Stage One fire restrictions often correspond with minor fire danger. This can be due to drought, heat, human activity such as camping or shooting, and similar risk factors. 

The idea of Stage One fire restrictions is to reduce the risk caused by human activities that are considered to be fire dangers. 

This doesn’t mean don’t go camping or don’t fire up the grill at all. Stage One fire restrictions just mean remaining diligent in how you’re going about these activities.

What you can and cannot do during Stage One fire restrictions:

  • You cannot build, maintain, attend or use a fire or campfire except within a developed recreation site or improved site.

    • Let’s unpack this one: This restriction extends to charcoal and barbecue grills, which are also prohibited under Stage One fire restrictions. 

    • Simply put, you cannot build a temporary fire ring out of dirt and rocks in a dispersed (or developed!) campsite and have or attend a fire within it.

    • The word attend is key. Under Stage One fire restrictions, not building the fire is not good enough. You cannot attend a prohibited fire built by another individual. If you are in attendance of a restricted burn without making an effort to extinguish the fire, you are considered at fault of violating the fire restriction. 

    • Exceptions: It is OK to build, maintain, attend, or use a fire within permanent fire pits or fire grates within developed recreation sites. It is also OK to use portable stoves, lanterns, etc. powered by LPG (liquefied petroleum gas—think propane and butane—for more on this, read our most recent blog post covering propane and propane accessories).

    • That said, despite the campfire regulations demanded by Stage One fire restrictions, LavaBox and similar portable propane fire pits are still safe and viable options for enjoying a campfire while staying compliant. Of course, always double-check with authorities and local regulations in the area you’re recreating in before burning. 

  • Smoking in wilderness areas is prohibited.

    • Exceptions: Smoking is OK within enclosed vehicles or buildings or within developed recreation sites so long as you’re stationary within an area of at least 3 feet in diameter that is cleared of all flammable materials. 

  • You cannot operate or use any internal or external combustion engine without a spark-arresting device properly installed, maintained, and in effective working order meeting either the USDA Forest Service Standard or appropriate Society of Automotive Engineers recommended practice.


What you can and cannot do during Stage Two fire restrictions:

The basis of Stage Two fire restrictions, for recreational uses, looks a lot like the regulations set forth in stage one fire restrictions. Stage two fire restrictions focus primarily on mitigating the risk caused by activities that are typically managed under permits or contracts. 

Stage Two fire restrictions are where the heaviest economic and social impacts begin to be seen. They affect forest users, contractors, and permitees and are not put into place lightly.

  • Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, or campfire are prohibited. 

    • Exceptions: You’re using a campfire fueled solely by liquid petroleum or LPG (again, propane, butane, butene, etc.). You’re a person with a written fire entry or activity permit authorizing you to take part in the otherwise prohibited act. You’re a resident owner or private lessee of land within the restricted area—provided such fires are within a residence. 

  • Smoking is prohibited except within an enclosed vehicle or building.

  • Possessing, discharging, or using any kind of firework or other pyrotechnic devices is prohibited.  

    • Note: Possessing or using fireworks or pyrotechnic devices is always prohibited in National Forests. If you’re in Colorado, like myself and the LavaBox headquarters, fireworks and pyrotechnics are almost always restricted, whether or not fire restrictions apply. 

  • Using an explosive is prohibited. 

  • You cannot operate a chainsaw or other equipment powered by an internal combustion engine between 1pm to 1am. 

  • You cannot operate or use any internal or external combustion engine without a spark-arresting device properly installed, maintained, and in effective working order meeting either the USDA Forest Service Standard or appropriate Society of Automotive Engineers recommended practice.

  • Welding, or operating an acetylene or other torch with an open flame is prohibited.  

  • Possessing or using a motor vehicle off Forest System Roads is prohibited.

    • Exceptions: When parking in an area devoid of vegetation within 10 feet of the roadway or when parking overnight in developed campgrounds and at trailheads.

Fire restrictions do not equal fun restrictions! 

Fire restrictions are not in play to stop you from enjoying the outdoors. 

With a little mindfulness and planning, you can still enjoy camping, campfires, roasting marshmallows, and fun around the campfire while remaining a good steward of our public lands. 

We’re a little biased here, but we recommend taking along a LavaBox or similar portable propane fire pit any time Stage One or Stage Two fire restrictions are in place. Liquid propane is almost always a safe and legal campfire option when the restrictions covered above are in place. 

Disclaimer: Fire restrictions vary from county to county and can change day to day! This article is not intended to inform you of your county’s current restrictions. Always check with your local authorities or forest service for up-to-date information on fire restrictions and prohibitions. 

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