Vail Valley reminded of local fire danger |

Vail Valley reminded of local fire danger

Meanwhile, we are watching the skies for snow

A prescribed burn on the Roaring Fork Valley side of Eagle County on Thursday produced smoke that quickly made its way into the Vail Valley.
U.S. Forest Service/courtesy photo

Ah, spring, the season when pretty much anything can happen.

A week after a wind-whipped wildfire threatened homes in a significant portion of Gypsum, the Vail Valley is set to receive a potentially healthy shot of rain and snow.

Some decent precipitation would be welcome right now. A shot of rain could help further tamp down the 99 acres of last week’s Duck Pond fire, a wind-driven blaze that was a bit of a surprise to fire officials.

When the fire started on the south side of the Eagle River about a mile from Gypsum, the first thinking was that there was enough moisture in the soil and plants to keep a fire small.

The wind changed that thinking, in a hurry.

“We’ve got guys who understand the science of fire (and it surprised them),” said Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek, the county’s lead fire official.

David Boyd, public information officer for the White River National Forest, said those surprises are becoming more common.

“Every fire season we see something (unprecedented),” Boyd said, adding that the continual drying across the mountain west plays a large role in those surprises.

And fire behavior across Colorado has many residents and visitors on edge.

There was a lot of smoke Thursday in the Vail Valley, the result of a prescribed fire in the Basalt area.

Boyd said that burn, across roughly 500 acres of an 1,100-acre area, was started by dropping incendiary devices from helicopters, starting from the top of a hillside and working down the slope. That’s because fire tends to advance uphill left to its own devices.

“We were watching the whole time, and could have stopped any time,” Boyd said.

The prescribed burn was intended to be “moderate” intensity, Boyd said. The burn was intended to clear habitat for wildlife, Boyd added, since the oak brush and other shrubs have become too thick to walk through and aren’t providing good forage for animals.

The burned areas also encourage new growth of grass and shrubs, not only because there’s more room, but because burned vegetation returns nutrients to the soil.

That process is also aided if a burned area can quickly get some good precipitation. That was the idea behind the Thursday operation, Boyd said.

Although spring weather can quickly change, van Beek said it’s probably a little too early for fire restrictions in Eagle County. But, he added, a regional fire official group is considering an early start to its weekly calls to evaluate fire conditions.

And, given current conditions, van Beek urged people to be extra-cautious with fire.

“We just encourage everyone to check with their local fire district and the (National) Weather Service (for conditions),” van Beek said, adding, “Don’t burn anything on windy days.”

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