Month without rain spikes fire risks | VailDaily.com
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Month without rain spikes fire risks

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” The dark clouds look like they want to put an end to our dry spell.

Day after day though, they don’t come through, says Wildridge resident Melanie Abbott.

When it does rain, like it did briefly Thursday afternoon, it amounts to little more than spittle from the clouds.

With two wildfires small but highly visible wildfires this week, it’s easy to see how little or no rain day after day can give fires the dry fuel they need to wreak havoc.

As of Thursday afternoon, Eagle County was at “red flag” levels of fire danger ” the highest possible ” because of the possibility of “dry lightning,” which is believed to have started the wildfire in Eagle Wednesday.

Take into account the careless Fourth of July revelers that probably started the wildfire near Singletree with fireworks, and Abbott is feeling a little nervous.

“But I’m not going to lose sleep over it,” Abbott said. “Most people live here for years without being bothered by fire.”

No rain has been recorded at Eagle County Airport for more than a month, said Troy Lindquist, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Very little rain, if any, has been seen throughout the county since May, he said.

“It’s been an abnormally dry start to the summer,” Lindquist said. “Any rain that has occurred has been a very isolated sprinkle or thunderstorm.”

While June is classically one of the driest months of the year, more thunderstorms and showers have usually shown up by this time, Lindquist said.

Temperatures, which have been creeping into the low 90s in Eagle, are also significantly above normal for this time of year, he said.

Abnormal heat and dryness are just a couple things adding to the significant fire danger around here. What else is turning Eagle County into a volatile matchbook?

For one, the fact that we had a lot of moisture last year, which led to a thick and lush growth of grass and sagebrush, could actually be making things worse this summer, said Ross Wilmore, the fire management officer for all federal lands in Eagle and Summit Counties.

“What we’re worried about is that extra grass drying out and being a rapid carrier of fire,” Wilmore said.

At higher elevations, snow is melting more quickly than usual, said Lee Anne Loupe, spokeswoman for the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit.

Then you add in all the needles and wood on the ground from beetle-killed pine trees. Then you add in the human factor ” the extra people out in the forests camping following a firework packed holiday. All this together leads to a significant fire risk for the area, Loupe said.

“We’re still going to barbecue this weekend,” said Minturn resident Ken Estes. “We know what’s going on though. We won’t be dumb about it like some people. Like those dingbats who probably started that fire over in Edwards.”

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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