If dry conditions persist, fire restrictions could be imposed earlier than usual in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

If dry conditions persist, fire restrictions could be imposed earlier than usual in Eagle County

EAGLE COUNTY — A wildfire that flared up in Edwards on Sunday, April 1, could have been a lot worse. It also showed the value of building homes with wildfires in mind.

The fire, just east of the Eagle River Village mobile home park, consumed about 2 acres and caused a brief evacuation of hilltop homes in the Brett Trail neighborhood. The fire was reported at 5 p.m. It was under control by 7 p.m., and by 8 p.m., the evacuation order was lifted.

Crews from the Eagle River Fire Protection District were on the scene several minutes after the first report and were soon joined by units from the Vail Fire Department and the Eagle-based Greater Eagle Fire Protection District. The crew from Vail covered the rest of Edwards, and crews from Summit County were called to cover Vail while those firefighters were dispatched to Edwards.

No homes damaged

“Everything not covered in snow is vulnerable. ... (We) could be in for an active, long (fire season).”Paul CadaWildfire specialist

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U.S. Highway 6 was closed during the incident, primarily because the closest hydrants to the fire were on the north side of the highway. The fire was on the south side of the road.

In the end, no homes were damaged and no injuries were reported.

Eagle County Wildfire Mitigation Manager Eric Lovgren said the fire could have much worse, for a couple of reasons.

First, a shift in Sunday afternoon's strong winds could have sent the fire in different, more potentially dangerous directions.

But, Lovgren said, what got him excited about the Sunday blaze was the planning in the Brett Trail neighborhood.

The Brett Trail homes, built a bit more than a decade ago, were among the first in the county built under then-new wildfire protection building regulations.

In addition, Lovgren said, homeowners in the Brett Trail neighborhood also have maintained their homes with "defensible space" in mind. In the vocabulary of wildfire, that means landscaping that won't encourage fire and using techniques including moving firewood piles, keeping trees trimmed and keeping gutters clear.

Lovgren said in the photos he saw, the fire burned up to trimmed trees near the home closest to the blaze.

Early wildfire danger

While the Edwards fire ended well, fire officials say this year's fire season has come early. And, in the weeks before vegetation gets green for the spring, it can actually be drier than it was in the fall.

That's particularly true on the north side of the valley.

Vail Fire Department wildfire specialist Paul Cada said he and Chief Mark Novak have already talked about current dry conditions.

"Everything not covered in snow is vulnerable," Cada said. And, given the persistent dry conditions, Cada said the region "could be in for an active, long" fire season.

That season marked another fire on Monday, April 2. Cada said he'd seen a report about a small fire along Coffee Pot Road west of the Colorado River Road.

In a normal season, fire chiefs and other officials starting in June or so hold a weekly conference call about fire conditions in the Upper Colorado River region.

Those calls have already started.

This year, Lovgren said, fire department public information officers will probably also hold regular conference calls to talk about public education efforts. Cada said if dry conditions persist, he expects to see fire restrictions imposed earlier than usual.

Eagle River Fire Protection District Public Information Officer Tracy LeClair agreed that without rain or snow, fire restrictions could be coming soon.

With yard work season also starting, LeClair said it's a good time to get outside and look at possible ways to help protect your home from a possible wildfire.

"We're happy to come out and do an assessment," LeClair said.

Fire and needed work

If fire restrictions are issued, then that could make early-season agricultural work difficult. This is the time of year when ranchers tend to burn the overgrowth from irrigation ditches. That both conserves water and makes moving water more efficient.

Lovgren said the high winds that have blown through the area in recent days have complicated firefighting efforts, possible restrictions and the need to get work done.

In the case of family farms and ranches, Lovgren said people there generally know when to burn ditches — mostly in the mornings, before winds really pick up. Ditches are also somewhat easier to monitor, and fires there usually self-extinguish pretty quickly.

Slash piles, or even back yard wood fires, are a different story.

Cada said he was at a neighborhood get-together Sunday, when another neighbor started a small fire in a backyard chiminea — a ceramic outdoor fireplace. A blast of wind quickly filled that yard with smoke.

Slash piles and fire pits can keep embers alive for hours, Lovgren said. Sustained winds can carry those embers to tinder-dry grasses and start a fire.

Given the kind of season that looks all-too-possible, fire officials say residents need to learn about, or brush up on, evacuation and defensible space techniques. New seminars are no doubt coming.

For now, though, Lovgren recommends mowing lawn and removing the dead material. Get rid of the wood pile just outside the house, and try to keep nothing flammable within three to five feet of a home's foundation.

Then there's this advice from fire professionals, which you're likely to hear more in the coming weeks:

"If it's a good day to fly a kite, it's a bad day to burn."

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

Be fire wise

To learn more about protecting homes from wildfire, go the Firewise program website.