White plumes of smoke throughout Routt County are serving as another reminder that spring arrived early this year, allowing the agricultural community to get an early start on spring chores.
Toponas rancher Mike Neelis was conducting controlled burns Monday on land he leases off Routt County Road 22 south of Steamboat Springs. He was burning off vegetation that could later clog the irrigation ditches that supply water to the hay fields.
"This will make the water flow," Neelis said. "We want all the water we can get."
He said the typically boggy areas are all drier than normal, and he is a couple weeks ahead of where he would normally be.
"Everything seems to be coming out of winter really well," Neelis said.
Controlled burns and the resulting smoke are common this year as ranchers clear out dead vegetation. It does cause concern for some residents, who call authorities out of caution to report a fire.
"Yes, it's that time of year," said Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale.
Communication is crucial to prevent firefighting resources from responding to controlled burns unnecessarily, Vale said. It also is important should there be a real fire.
People conducting burns are instructed to contact Routt County Communications at 879-1090.
"Common sense prevails, and they have to let dispatch know when and where," said Routt County Sheriff's Office Investigator Ken Klinger.
That way dispatchers are able to better field calls from people reporting smoke or flames.
Dispatchers fielded calls from 48 people Sunday who reported they would be conducting controlled burns, and more calls should be expected throughout the spring.
Controlled burns can quickly get out of control, but have historically not caused significant damage, Vale said.
"What I would say is pay attention to the forecasted weather," Vale said. "The wind is what gets it going."
A few burns have gotten out of control so far this spring, but no property or structures were damaged.