Local wildlands are ready to burn | VailDaily.com

Local wildlands are ready to burn

Cliff Thompson

Remember how hot and dry it was during the drought of 2002?It’s that bad again. Hot, windy conditions are rapidly drying out the landscape. Temperatures last week hovered in the mid 80s and humidity has been in the teens.

The drought of 2002 was the worst in more than 300 years, according to tree-ring analysis, and created some of the most extreme fire danger ever experienced. Fortunately there were few lightning strikes and no major fires in Eagle County during 2002. There were, however, a number of smaller blazes that fire crews quickly snuffed.The ERIC or energy release component, is a measure of how flammable the timbered wildlands are and how hot a fire could burn if it gets started. The index consists of a compilation of ambient temperature, fuel temperature, fuel moisture, wind, weather and other factors. Tuesday the rating was 78 for timbered lands in Eagle County.”Right now we’re hitting all-time highs in the ERC,” said Eric Rebitzke, acting fire management officer for Interagency Fires Office of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. “The drought is catching up with us.”

In short, conditions couldn’t get any better for a fire. The Eagle County Sheriff’s office Tuesday issued a county-wide fire ban that restricts fires to those in constructed fire pits with a grate and gas-fueled stoves. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are expected to enact similar fire restrictions this week, Rebitzke said. Water-giving snowpack on area mountains was only 70 percent of average this year.”The fire danger is extreme right now,” Rebitzke said.

Statistics from fires on Forest Service land, where many people camp, show that two-thirds of the fires are human caused and the other third, by lightning. On the less frequented and lower elevation Bureau of Land Management lands, lightning causes more than three-quarters of the fires and humans, the remainder, Rebitzke said.So far this year there has been one wildfire in Eagle county in the Dotsero volcanic crater in May. That fire burned about 10 acres and was human-caused.Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at cthompson@vaildaily.com.

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