Red flag fire warning issued for region | VailDaily.com

Red flag fire warning issued for region

A firefighter works a smoldering “hot spot” on the Red Table Fire on Friday afternoon.

EAGLE COUNTY — Days of warm, dry, windy weather have dried out vegetation across Colorado, and the Vail Valley is no exception.

The National Weather Service Friday issued a red flag warning for virtually all of western Colorado, including Eagle County. Those warnings indicate that weather conditions — warm temperatures, low humidity and stout winds — are ripe for the spread of any wildfire that happens to spark.

Readings in the area indicate very high to extreme fire danger in the valley and surrounding forests.

"The potential is really high, and a fire can quickly grow into something that's dangerous," Eagle River Fire Protection District Public Information Officer Tracy LeClair said.

Despite the risk, there isn't yet a ban on campfires in the area.

The Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Team is a group of fire department, law enforcement and public land managers spread across an area stretching from Summit County to Mesa County. That group meets via phone conference every Tuesday to talk about weather, fuel moisture and the other factors that go into evaluating fire danger.

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A word of caution

LeClair said that group almost made the call for a fire ban during its July 12 meeting, but didn't. But, she added, there's a potential for imposing a ban if the current weather pattern holds.

"We don't want to jump the gun," LeClair said. "We don't want to confuse people by putting on a ban and then taking it off."

Sylvan Lake State Park, near the site of last week's Red Table fire, hasn't imposed any fire restrictions, either. But the park was closed to day use at the lake while firefighting crews were working nearby.

While they're still allowed in campgrounds, LeClair urged caution with campfires.

"Have a bucket of water and a shovel," she said, urging campers to use water to both douse a fire and stir the ashes until those ashes are cool.

Almost as concerning as campfires are cigarette butts. LeClair said a careless flick of a butt from a car window can easily spark dried grasses along a roadside.

"Two years ago we had a fire start in a public ashtray, when the cigarette wasn't out and it caught something else on fire," she said.

Rain on the way

While the danger is high right now, there's some relief on the horizon.

Julie Malingowski, a forecaster at the National Weather Service's Grand Junction office, said while hot, dry and windy conditions are expected through the weekend, there's moisture coming next week.

Malingowski said a southwestern flow of moisture will make its way into western Colorado, starting perhaps as soon as Sunday evening.

"We'll see higher dewpoints, more cloud cover and increased showers and thunderstorms with wetting rains," Malingowski said. That could be the start of the mid-summer monsoonal flow that brings frequent afternoon and evening thunderstorms to the region.

Even that relief carries some danger, though. As the pattern first moves into the area, Malingowski said the storms will probably pack more lightning than rain.

"That's a vital time to be careful," Malingowski said. "Make sure you report any fires."

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

What about Red Table?

The Red Table fire near Sylvan Lake State Park remains relatively small, and crews Friday had made progress.

Kate Jerman of the U.S. Forest Service said Friday that the 20-acre fire was about 50 percent contained, with 100 percent containment expected Saturday.

Jerman said approximately 60 firefighters were working on the fire. There had been water drops from aircraft Thursday, and a helicopter was on standby Friday, but wasn’t used.

What was used was a lot of hand labor, using techniques that include walking across a burned area searching for hot spots by putting a bare hand above the ground. Warm areas were attacked with hand tools.

“We’re doing some really labor intensive work,” Jerman said.