No Vail fire restrictions in place yet, but officials caution to be careful
The forecast for Avon:
Today: Partly cloudy, high of 78.
Friday: Sunny, high of 75
Saturday: Sunny, high of 82.
Sunday: Partly sunny, high of 83.
Monday: Sunny, high of 86.
EAGLE COUNTY — This part of summer can be dry in the high country, and as the wind blows, area fire danger is rising.
The Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for all of Eagle County on Tuesday and Wednesday. The warning comes from a combination of wind and low relative humidity — generally 15 percent or lower — which makes wildfires more likely to spark and spread.
Matthew Aleksa, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office, said one of the biggest contributors is wind, with either sustained wind speeds or gusts of 25 mph or more.
Aleksa said the wind is expected to abate sometime Thursday. But, he added, there’s little precipitation in the forecast.
The wind and low humidity quickly dry out grasses and other potential fire fuels.
Fire officials around the region participate in a conference call every Tuesday. Officials talk about overall conditions, as well as what’s going on in their jurisdictions.
This week, the call resulted in officials in Garfield and Mesa counties imposing fire restrictions. But those very dry conditions haven’t yet spread into Eagle County.
Eagle River Fire Protection District Community Risk Manager Tracy LeClair wrote in an email that Eagle County doesn’t yet meet the criteria for fire restrictions.
Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak wrote in an email that conditions can vary widely, not just across the Western Slope, but even in individual counties.
“Fuel conditions in Vail are currently very different than in Rifle, Gypsum or even the valley bottom in Edwards,” Novak wrote.
Fire restrictions aren’t unusual in the Vail Valley. But this dry spell looks like it’s going to coincide with the Fourth of July holiday. The valley will be about as full as it ever is, from hotels to campgrounds.
There’s also Avon’s Salute to the U.S.A. celebration and fireworks show set for Monday and displays in Vail and Eagle on Tuesday.
Fire officials are already urging caution with personal fireworks, as well as campfires and grills. According to a release from the Eagle River Fire Protection District, 40 percent of all fires reported on July 4 are due to fireworks.
As the area’s vegetation dries out, fire officials are also looking hard at conditions that might cancel the public fireworks shows.
LeClair wrote that fire restrictions would need to be in place before a fireworks show would be canceled. Again, those conditions don’t yet exist.
“We are currently cautiously optimistic that conditions will be favorable” for fireworks, Novak wrote.
But officials will keep close tabs on conditions. Novak wrote that observation will take place both on the ground and, if needed, the National Weather Service will be asked for a “spot forecast” for the fireworks launch site.
Novak added that one of the primary factors with fire danger in Vail is that grasses haven’t yet cured out, meaning those grasses aren’t yet fully susceptible to random sparks that might cause fires.
In Vail, there are still patches of snow above the fireworks launch site, a good sign for weekend shows.
That said, Novak wrote that protection of spectators and the landscape is his department’s top priority, which means fire officials will monitor conditions “up until the moment of the fireworks show,” Novak wrote.
“If there are any concerns about the risk of (wildfire), the display may be postponed or canceled,” he wrote.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.
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