Vail area fire danger drops to ‘moderate’
Danger was listed as ‘extreme’ just last week
The old cliche about Colorado is if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. In the case of area fire danger, just wait a few days.
A combination of strong winds, dry conditions and warm temperatures last week prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red-flag fire warning, meaning that conditions were ripe for the rapid spread of wildfire. At the same time, the local fire danger was listed as “extreme.”
Fire officials meet weekly via conference call to discuss fire danger, with factors including weather and the “energy release component” of grasses, trees and other fuels.
Fuels remain very dry. But other conditions, including cooler days and nights, along with some increases in relative humidity, have combined to drop the fire danger to “moderate.”
Eagle River Fire Protection District Community Risk Manager and Public Information Officer Tracy LeClair said those conditions aren’t unusual for this time of year.
“Until it snows, we’ll see the fire danger bounce around,” LeClair said. “But when we don’t see precipitation, any spark is a cause for concern.”
Those sparks can come from lightning, the likely cause of a small fire currently burning in a remote part of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, or from humans.
LeClair noted that fall often sees plenty of people in local forests, either camping, hunting or sightseeing. While no fire restrictions are currently in place, LeClair urged those people to pay close attention to both fire danger and their own use of fire.
Fall fires can be a bit easier to fight, LeClair noted. But that isn’t always the case.
High winds in October 2020 caused the East Troublesome Fire to explode in Grand County. The fire, in a matter of hours, grew more than 100,000 acres — more than 156 square miles. That fire devastated the Grand Lake and Granby communities.
Vail Fire Department Wildland Program Administrator Paul Cada noted that Eagle County, along with nearly all of western Colorado, is stuck in a yearslong drought. Even with decent summer rains over the summer, fuels that had grown are starting to dry out in preparation for fall and winter.
That persistent drought means that for the past few years Eagle County has seen multiday fires in the fall, Cada added.
“It will take quite a bit of substantial rain,” to break that drought, Gypsum Fire Protection District Chief Justin Kirkland said. That means days of rain, not just an occasional good storm.
“In the absence of a persistent wet period, the fire danger will likely rise and fall from week to week,” Kirkland said.
That danger will remain until snow comes, and stays on the ground.
Until then, and even without fire restrictions, local fire officials are urging caution.