It may be ditch burning season on the Western Slope, and while San Miguel County residents (for now) are still encouraged to burn their ditches, the Norwood Fire Department is asking anyone who does to be careful. Additionally, last week the department announced that it will no longer be able to conduct any controlled burns in the district.

“People can burn ditches. It’s just that we can’t conduct the burns. We will assist you and show you the best way, we can give advice, and we will provide an engine to oversee it just in case,” Fire Chief John Bockrath told the Norwood Post on Monday.

The fire department cannot light controlled burns or manage them for landowners. Landowners must also have their own water source in case of an emergency.

Bockrath said controlled burns are currently too much of a liability for the department.

“We normally allocate several engines and a full crew of volunteer firefighters to conduct large controlled burns on public lands and on behalf of private landowners,” Bockrath said. “However, as we continue on high alert due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to keep our personnel, vehicles and equipment ready to respond to fires and medical emergencies at a moment’s notice.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the public is asked to call the department and request the expertise of Mark Garcia, the wildland fire specialist. Garcia and one other person will travel to a property to oversee a burn.

The department remains available to assist with procedural advice to landowners who want to burn on their properties, and if available, the department can provide a back-up brush truck and possibly one or two volunteers in case fires get out of control.

Bockrath said it’s important that the public call in their controlled burns and to request the oversight, as one fire last week did get out of control due to wind and then burned a field.

Bockrath said Garcia can assess wind and other exposures, including trees.

“Mark has done a lot of that. He’s good at giving advice to keep it safe,” he added.

On Monday, Bockrath said Montrose County recently established a ban on all burns, including bonfires. He said San Miguel County may soon follow suit, and he’s waiting for updates regarding countywide burn bans.

“Based on respiratory issues of COVID-19, officials don’t want smoke in the air. It can interfere with respiratory issues,” he said.

The Norwood Fire Department was established in 1932 as a volunteer department that covered 18 square miles. In 1953, it became the Norwood-Redvale Volunteer Fire Department covering both towns and 70 square miles. In 2008, it transitioned into the Norwood Fire Protection District. Today, it staffs three professionals, and nearly 40 volunteers provide emergency medical services, structural and wildland fire suppression, rescue, and hazardous materials response protecting approximately 3,000 residents over 385 square miles in San Miguel County.