Vail Valley fire danger goes from ‘very high’ to ‘extreme’
Lengthy dry spell has grasses ready to burn; little rain in the near-term forecast
- Friday: A 30% chance of thunderstorms. High, 78; low, 45.
- Saturday: Sunny. High, 81; low, 47.
- Sunday: Sunny. High, 83; low, 46.
- Monday: Sunny. High, 83; low, 46.
EAGLE COUNTY — The 2019 fire season has been nothing like 2018, thank goodness. But the fire danger in the area has been creeping up for the past few weeks.
The latest information from the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit shows that the fire danger now ranges from “very high” to “extreme” throughout much of the Eagle River Valley. The fire danger has risen due to a combination of low humidity and rapidly-drying grasses and other fine fuels that are usually the origin point for wildfires.
The National Weather Service on Thursday issued a “red flag” warning for the northwest corner of Colorado, an area that doesn’t include Eagle County. Red flag warnings combine humidity, fuel moisture and high winds. Those winds aren’t expected to develop locally for at least the next few days.
But local fire officials are still urging campers, hunters and others to be very cautious with fire.
The Eagle River Fire Protection District covers the area between the top of Tennessee Pass and Wolcott. District public information officer Tracy LeClair said while crews have responded to a few small fires recently, there have been relatively few reports of potential blazes.
In Vail, fuels haven’t been as quick to dry out.
Vail Fire Department wildland fire specialist Paul Cada said while grasses in the upper valley are drying out, the heavier fuels are still pretty moist and fire-resistant.
Cada noted that a recent fire along Interstate 70 in Avon near the Post Boulevard interchange burned in the grasses, and was driven by wind. But, he said, that fire slowed when it got into heavier fuels.
The same thing happened with a Wednesday wildfire between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, Cada said. Although that part of Garfield County is more dry than much of Eagle County, Cada said that fire also slowed when it reached into heavier fuels. That fire was contained by early Thursday morning.
Fuel moisture has dropped due to a couple of factors: the natural maturation of grasses and the lack of significant rainfall for the past few weeks.
At the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, Meteorologist Mike Charnick said there’s little, if any, precipitation in the forecast for Labor Day weekend. Past that, there could be some showers in Eagle County next week.
Charnick said that the usual summer monsoon season, in which southwesterly wind flows bring moisture from the Pacific Ocean, didn’t really develop this year. The same thing happened in 2018, although Charnick said two years is far short of anything like a trend.
With dry conditions and the expectation of a lot of visitors, local officials are asking the public to be extra careful with fire.
While the county isn’t yet under any fire restrictions, the usual precautions apply:
- •Never, ever leave a fire unattended.
- Make sure all fires are completely out before turning in for the night or leaving a campsite for any reason.
Most people observe those rules. A few don’t.
Holy Cross Eagle Ranger District District Ranger Aaron Mayville said his people have had constant patrols through campgrounds and backcountry areas. As they do most summers, those people regularly find unattended campfires.
Mayville said with the diligence of his staff and other fire officials in the area, a lot of potential problems are caught before a real problem develops.
“We’re asking people to remain vigilant and smart, especially over this Labor Day weekend,” Mayville said, adding that he hopes people can enjoy the forest safely, whether they’re camping or hunting.
Still, he said, “We’ll be out (in the forest) all weekend.”
Facing traffic woes and oncoming growth, officials are looking at road improvements.