Eagle County issues second red flag wildfire warning this week | VailDaily.com

Eagle County issues second red flag wildfire warning this week

Dry conditions, sometimes-strong winds expected to persist into next week

The forecast

Here’s the forecast for Avon for the next few days:

Thursday: Sunny, with light winds. High: 72.

Friday: Mostly sunny and windy, with gusts up to 35 mph. High: 72.

Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 68.

Sunday: Sunny, with a high of 66.

Source: National Weather Service.

EAGLE COUNTY — We’ve already seen two red flag fire warnings this week. More may be coming.

Local fire officials and the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service on Wednesday issued the second warning of the week. The first was issued for Tuesday afternoon. Both were for portions of Eagle County lower than 9,000 feet. 

With the red flag warning comes Stage 1 fire restrictions for all areas of unincorporated Eagle County. That doesn’t include federal lands.

Under those restrictions, the following are banned:

  • All personal use of fireworks.
  • Any fire not in a permanent fire pit, ring or grate on public or private land.
  • No explosive targets or incendiary (tracer) ammunition. Both are always banned on federal land.

Red flag warnings are issued when a combination of temperature, wind and fuel moisture drops to levels that would quickly drive a wildfire.

The Granite Lake Fire in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness is holding steady at about 700 acres. The fire is in a wilderness area and isn’t threatening any structures, so it is just being monitored at the moment. 

The Decker Fire south of Salida is a different story. That fire quickly grew to nearly 4,000 acres and prompted a number of home evacuations.

Tracy LeClair, public information officer for the Eagle River Fire Protection District, said fall is commonly called Colorado’s “second fire season.” Grasses have fully grown and are staring the fall die off, she said. In addition, trees are starting to shed leaves. As those dry out, they can also add fuel to a budding wildfire. 

LeClair said current conditions have prompted officials to post “very high” fire danger warnings. Those warnings were expected to rise to “extreme” on Wednesday and fall back to “very high” Thursday.

The weather overall is expected to be a bit less fire-prone Thursday, but the forecast isn’t promising.

Chris Cuomo, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, said the forecast isn’t promising in terms of precipitation or weaker winds. 

Forecasters are looking at the prospect of issuing a fire weather watch, or, possibly, another red flag warning, when the winds pick up again.

Cuomo said Thursday is expected to bring a bit of a break from the winds that have swept the region for the past several days. But, he added, another disturbance Friday will sweep through the area, packing strong winds.

In addition to the winds, Cuomo said there’s little chance of precipitation in the immediate future.

LeClair said strong winds and dry conditions mean it’s essential for backcountry visitors to be extra careful with fire. The state’s rifle seasons for elk hunting begin Oct. 12 and will bring thousands of hunters to virtually every part of the Rockies. The current fall color season brings thousands of visitors.

“There are still a lot of people recreating (in the backcountry),” LeClair said. “They need to make sure their fires are 100% out — cold to the touch,” she said. 

Cuomo said since there’s no lightning in the forecast, any wildfire in the region will almost certainly be human-caused.

He urged caution with campfires, as well as people smoking. And, Cuomo added, a freshly-parked car parked on dry grass can also cause a fire.

For more information, go to ecemergency.org.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.