EAGLE COUNTY — A combination of warm temperatures, stiff winds and low humidity has put Eagle County, along with virtually all the rest of Colorado’s Western Slope, under a “red flag” warning. Those warnings — currently in place until the evening of June 20 — mean conditions are ripe to allow fire to spread quickly.
The National Weather service in Grand Junction issued the warning Tuesday morning. According to Aldis Strautins, a service hydrologist and forecaster in that office, winds are expected to die down a bit after Thursday. But, he said, the region is in a dry period until at least early next week.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the forecast for the Vail Valley showed no chance of precipitation from June 19 through June 24.
Strautins said while the lack of precipitation in the forecast is bad news, the flip side of the dry forecast is that there is little chance for lightning.
“No thunderstorms (in the forecast) is extra-good news,” Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller said. Meanwhile, he said, there isn’t much local firefighters can do, except be “hyper-vigilant” in looking for any signs of wildfire.
Eric Lovgren, the Eagle County wildfire mitigation officer, said fires can quickly get out of control on red flag days and not just in the forests.
The recent fire at the mobile home park in Dotsero took place on a red flag day, Lovgren said, and quickly expanded from one to four structures.
On a windy day, a knocked-over charcoal grill can quickly set fire to an entire backyard, Lovgren said, and flames from even grass fires can be fanned into a wall of fire 8 to 10 feet tall.
While red flag conditions will hold in the area over the next couple of days, the good news in Eagle County is that another key component in wildfire, fuel moisture, is right about at its historic average.
Lovgren said current fuel moisture is between the 60th and 70th percentile. In comparison, fuel moisture at this point in 2012 had hit the 98th percentile of dryness, prompting early and strict restrictions on outdoor fires.
The relatively moist natural fuel supply is the main reason there are no outdoor burning restrictions in the county — yet.
Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy, who’s also the main fire officer outside the county’s towns, said it’s unlikely anyone seeking a burning permit for agricultural land will get one on windy days. Other than that, though, people can have campfires or fire up outdoor grills or fire pits.
Still, it’s best to be cautious, especially when the wind is blowing.
“We want people to be careful out there, and we encourage them to call in anything they see in the way of smoke or fire,” Lovgren said.
And, while fuel moisture is fine for now, conditions can change quickly, especially if recent warm, dry conditions continue.
As anyone who drives along Interstate 70 westbound toward Eagle and Gypsum can attest, the grasses along the highway’s median and shoulders are drying out. The same is true elsewhere in the county, too.
“If we have another two weeks of this, who knows where we’ll be,” Lovgren said.
Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.