EAGLE COUNTY - When concerned citizens and passersby call local fire departments these days to report possible signs of fire, firefighters are reacting as if Colorado's next largest wildfire is already in progress.
That's what happened Thursday afternoon when a Wildridge resident called in to report smoke in the air north of the Avon mountaintop community.
"We sent a full assignment to respond to Wildridge for structure protection and immediately incorporated the Forest Service/(Bureau of Land Management) crews, who launched an air attack from Grand Junction," said Michael Warmuth, a battalion chief for the Eagle River Fire Protection District.
The report turned out to be nothing, but these kinds of reactions are necessary as the state faces record-setting drought conditions, forests full of pine beetle-killed trees and other dead and dry fuels, and wildfires already burning around the state.
Federal and local agencies are implementing regional Stage Two fire restrictions today, stretching from the Utah state line to the Continental Divide.
"We're responding commensurate to those Stage Two restrictions," Warmuth said. "We're not hesitating to call our resources. ... Things are often more easily identified from the air."
The National Weather Service also issued a Red Flag Warning for several Western Slop fire zones, including zone 203 which includes all of Eagle County, lasting from noon to 9 p.m. Friday, and continuing Saturday afternoon through Saturday evening.
A Red Flag Warming means that "critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now, or will shortly."
"A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures will create explosive fire growth potential," the National Weather Service warning reads.
A Fire Weather Watch, which is also in effect for the area, means critical fire weather conditions are forecasted.
What it means for local residents and visitors is to continue to be observant of your surroundings.
"We appreciate the citizens for not hesitating or delaying reporting these things for us," Warmuth said. "All fires start small. ... We thank people for calling early - we want to get there early, that's why we're here."
Warmuth said local crews have been training for these severe conditions as they do every year - through rigorous training and testing outlined by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, which include equipment inspections, hard line construction, physical fitness tests, fire shelter drills and fire behavior awareness.
Last week, a partnership between Eagle River Fire and the town of Avon helped firefighters develop their skills in facing the actual forest fuels that exist right now.
"It is critical to ensure that our crews can work as a team and cut fire line in the heavy brush that borders our communities," Warmuth said. "By working on some town property that was scheduled for improvement, our firefighters were able to develop their skills outside of the classroom and limit the impact to the environment. We think that is a win for everyone."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.