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A Different Fire Risk: People Living In Colorado's Forests

NEDERLAND, Colo. (CBS4)- With Red Flag warnings in place in counties across Colorado, the list of potential fire threats continues to expand.

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"The Red Flag… isn't the boy crying wolf," said Nederland Fire Protection District's Eric Abramson.

On public land only a short distance from town there is often a threat, that rangers, sheriff's deputies, local marshals and firefighters look for.

"It's a problem in many communities around the country where you have close-in camping like this," said Abramson.

"This is definitely a new one that creates issues," said Golden Gate Fire Protection District chief Damian DiFeo.

People camping at illegal sites are creating a fire risk.

"They're out on people's land and you know, they're careless."

Some are inexperienced campers others looking for a place to call home.

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"There's a fair amount of transients," said Abramson.

He showed CBS4 a past fire at an illegal site that firefighters managed to catch just before it got over a ridge that would have put it closer to town.

"If this thing got over the hill and was still moving pretty fast, we were going to start evacuating."

They never spotted the people who let a campfire get out of control and don't know who started it.

"There's not a lot of malicious behavior. There are people like that, of course. It's generally someone who just hasn't really camped, they want to go camping they find the close in camping and they haven't done their homework about conditions and having enough water."

But not always.

"We have people up here that clearly are not wanting to be in society and they think this is far enough away but yet their impacts in this area can be pretty drastic for our community."

Sometimes, says Abramson, people give firefighters a hard time, and then law enforcement is involved. People with active warrants have been found in the forest.

In some Colorado mountain towns, for decades people have used campsites for housing to work in summer resorts or restaurants. But the more are showing up in some places.

"Over the last couple of years, it's gotten a lot worse," said DiFeo. "As they do these urban camping bans in the city it's just pushing them further west."

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There is no public land in the canyon, it's all private property. But some of the fires are remote.

"We get smoke reports that are kind of in the middle of nowhere."

Usually, just small fires get reported and many times they cannot be found. But there are worries with high winds that a fire could easily get carried to nearby homes.

"We put fire ban signs up at the bottom of the canyon and the top and they, they're just going to what they're going to do."

DiFeo worries that some of the people may not be capable of understanding the risks they may pose.

"You have people that have mental health issues. How are they processing that their fire can start a fire and burn down all these houses?"

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