Vail Valley fire danger is moderate, but officials stress caution
Areas are rapidly drying out, and our cool, wet spring has led to a lot of growth in grasses
EAGLE COUNTY — Even as local streams are running at or above record levels right now, local fire agencies are asking the public to be careful with fire — and to leave fireworks to the professionals.
The fire danger in most of Eagle County is listed as “moderate” at the moment. That’s a vast improvement over 2018, when “extreme” fire danger was common.
Still, there are areas that are rapidly drying out, and our cool, wet spring has led to a lot of growth in grasses. You don’t need to look much beyond the median strip of Interstate 70 to see that grasses are quickly losing their just-rained-on green hue.
As grasses dry out, they create the potential to burn quickly, and for a fire to spread quickly when driven by a bit of wind.
“Anywhere you have those fuels — fine grasses — there are going to be concerns,” said Tracy LeClair of the Eagle River Fire Protection District. Those concerns range from cigarette butts carelessly tossed from a vehicle to unattended campfires to perhaps this week’s biggest concern, illegal fireworks.
Any fireworks that leave the ground or explode are illegal in Colorado. Those fireworks can create trouble in both the backcountry and populated areas.
Paul Cada, the Vail Fire Department’s wildland fire specialist, agreed with LeClair’s concerns. While the higher peaks are still mostly covered in snow, Cada said that snowpack is “rapidly diminishing.”
With thousands of people expected in the valley over the Fourth of July holiday, Cada said campfires and fireworks are the two biggest concerns right now.
“We want to make sure people are having fun but using fire safely,” Cada said.
- Never leave a campfire unattended. Put it out with plenty of water.
- In town, use either propane or make sure any wood-burning device has a spark arrestor.
- Don’t use illegal fireworks.
Fireworks use can be a big deal, and officials urge everyone to leave fireworks use to the professionals.
“There’s a great opportunity to enjoy big, professional shows” all over the valley, Cada said. Vail, Beaver Creek, and Gypsum will all host professional displays on the Fourth of July.
Still, this year is better than 2018, when fireworks shows were cancelled all over Colorado due to a remarkably dangerous summer for wildfires.
“We’re less concerned than in the last few years,” Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek said. “We’re still discouraging anybody from setting off their own (fireworks) … we know how a simple mistake can turn into a catastrophe.”
And it won’t take much to get the fire danger rising again.
“Given the way things dry out so quickly here, that’s the concern,” LeClair said. “A day or two of really warm weather and we could be back to (high danger).”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2930.