Vail Valley hovers near ‘red flag’ fire risk | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley hovers near ‘red flag’ fire risk

The fire danger sign reads high, Wednesday, by Red Sky Golf Club. With dry conditions and high winds, the valley is under a red flag warning.

EAGLE COUNTY — With fall weather creeping into the valley, fire danger usually rises. That danger has spiked this week.

The National Weather Service Tuesday issued a red flag fire warning for much of northwest Colorado. That warning is issued due to "critical fire weather conditions." This week, those conditions came about due to warm temperatures and high winds, combined with the fact that vegetation is drying out.

The warning didn't extend into Eagle County on Wednesday. Fire danger is still high, but not high enough to issue fire bans or other measures.

In fact, despite warm dry weather earlier this summer no fire bans have been issued this year.

Area wildfire managers meet every week via conference call, so they can coordinate planning, as well as possible fire bans and warnings.

"We've been hovering right below (fire ban) thresholds all summer," Eagle County Wildfire Manager Eric Lovgren said. "Every time we've gotten to that point, moisture has come."

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But, Lovgren said, an errant spark from an unattended camp fire, combined with high winds, could still quickly trigger a substantial wildfire.

'Second season'

Paul Cada, the wildfire specialist at the Vail Fire Department, said we're now well into what fire experts call the area's "second fire season." That season coincides with the advent of hunting season. The state's season for hunting with black-powder rifles starts soon, and will bring a good number of people into the backcountry. The more popular conventional rifle seasons follow in October.

Lovgren said hunting season puts more people deeper into the backcountry, especially beyond established campgrounds.

"Generally speaking, when people are in camp, they're watching their fires," Lovgren said. "Our big concern is when they leave."

Fires in the backcountry are a source of worry, but not as big a concern as wildfires that spark in or near what fire managers call the "wildland/urban interface." Those are the areas where public land meets private property and homes in and near towns and neighborhoods.

Lovgren said Eagle County and the Vail Board of Realtors have a program called Real Fire, in which wildfire experts evaluate private property near forested areas and offer a list to homeowners interested in making their homes better able to withstand wildfire.

Lovgren said the local program is similar to a program in Boulder County. That program has been in place for a few years, and got a test during the Cold Springs fire in June. That fire, sparked by campers in the forest near Nederland, burned several homes in the area. Lovgren said owners of eight homes in the Cold Springs fire area had participated in the Boulder County program. None of those homes sustained significant damage.

Like the Boulder County program, Real Fire provides property owners with certificates that can be presented to either insurance companies or prospective buyers.

Easing the danger

The Eagle River Fire Protection District covers the territory from Tennessee Pass through Minturn, then down the valley through Avon, Edwards and Wolcott.

Department spokeswoman Tracy LeClair said that district has a wildfire mitigation program for property owners. That program will bring a fire crew to a home for an inside-and-out inspection, followed by recommendations for items ranging from simple — better smoke detectors or moving firewood piles off patios — to more extensive improvements.

LeClair said that program, now in its third year, has been pretty successful.

"Every year, we get more people involved," LeClair said. In fact, she said, entire neighborhoods in Eagle-Vail, Mountain Star and Cordillera have all received firewise certifications, something that can also be used with insurance companies and prospective buyers.

The Vail Fire Department has a similar program, and both Cada and LeClair said one of the biggest problems is reaching out to second-home owners, who often aren't available to talk about wildfire prevention.

In Vail, the fire department and the town's building department have worked to adjust the town's codes to encourage better mitigation efforts. An ordinance passed Tuesday on first reading by the Vail Town Council encourages use of more fire-resistant building materials and construction techniques in new construction in town.

"It's been a slow, steady process," Cada said. "A lot of the folks we've been talking to are taking our recommendations."

And, while its been some time since a major fire struck the valley, local fire managers say it's essential to continue mitigation efforts on both public land and private property.

"Every year we count ourselves lucky we haven't had any big (fire) starts," LeClair said. "But it's not a matter of if, but when."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

Small fire near Minturn

A small fire near Minturn has prompted the U.S. Forest Service to close the Fall Creek and Notch Mountain trails. The fire, which was reported to be just a quarter-acre, was spotted about two miles up the Fall Creek Trail from the Half Moon Campground.

The fire is in a wilderness area, so crews will just monitor it from a safe distance.

“A well-managed fire in this area could really benefit the forest ecosystem and wildlife habitat, so we’ll continue to monitor the fire as we’ve been doing,” District Ranger Aaron Mayville said.

According to a release, there are natural barriers including rock formations and cliffs around the fire area. The fire will be allowed to burn in that area.

Some smoke may be visible in the area. For more information, call 970-827-5715.