Assessing the fire season ahead |

Assessing the fire season ahead

J.K. Perry
NWS Fire FP 5-3
Vail Daily |

EAGLE COUNTY – An average wildland fire season in the county means 40 to 50 fires usually less than an acre in size, and that’s exactly what area fire experts are predicting – an average season.”For Eagle County the predictions are below … or at normal fire potential,” said Barry Smith, head of Eagle County Emergency Management.The higher-than-average snowfall this year might lessen the risk of fire.”There’s more moisture in the ground to be absorbed by the plants and they don’t burn as readily,” Smith said.Regardless of all the fire forecasts, they are just that – forecasts.”My standard saying when people ask me how the fire season is going to be, is ask me in November,” Smith said. “It’s really too hard to predict.”

Darn beetlesThe fire season might be complicated by pine beetles. The potential for fires among lodgepoles killed by pine beetles might increase if natural fuels like grasses and brush build up at the base of the trees.Ross Wilmore hopes to reduce the chance of fire in the dead, rust-colored trees by removing dry grasses and dead, fallen trees near homes that border the wilderness. “We’re kind of preparing for the worst case and hoping for the best case,” said Wilmore, regional manager for the federal Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit.Wilmore plans to monitor and remove dead grass and trees from areas he calls a concern: near Dowd Junction in West Vail, Battle Mountain and Vail’s Red Sandstone neighborhood.This way “we can kick the legs out from underneath the fuel problem,” Wilmore said. A fire in beetle-killed trees has the potential to be more disastrous, Wilmore said.

“They have faster spreading potential,” he said.It’s electricLightning typically causes fires, and the strikes are concentrated in the July-August monsoon season. “That’s what starts most of our fires, although we get a few caused by humans,” he said.Lightning is less significant before and after the monsoon season, he said.Two general types of monsoon exist – wet and dry. A wet monsoon cuts down on the number of fires because of rain, while a dry one does quite the opposite, Wilmore said.When the monsoons will roll through the mountains, and whether they are wet or dry remains to be seen.

“We don’t have any kind of signal right now that it will be stronger or weaker or earlier or later than normal,” said Mike Chamberlain, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “There’s no signal that reliably predicts the monsoon.”Fires are more likely in southwest Colorado where little winter precipitation fell. “It’s been really dry,” he said. “It would seem, based on that, the high fire danger would be in the southwest.”Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928, or, Colorado

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