Vail Valley is drying out and fire danger is increasing
National Weather Service says area may be in for some precipitation over the next several days
EAGLE COUNTY — It didn’t long for much of the Vail Valley to dry out. That means fire danger is rising.
The Eagle River Fire Protection District covers the county between roughly Tennessee Pass and Wolcott, with the exception of Vail. That district on July 11 noted that the fire danger was “high” — about halfway up on the danger scale.
Public information officer Tracy LeClair said while the district is geographically diverse, ranging from high alpine to high deserts, the district only uses one measurement site, near Dowd Junction.
Given that it’s the heart of summer, several days without measurable precipitation can quickly drive up fire danger, LeClair said. That drying out is particularly noticeable along Interstate 70. Grasses in the highway median are starting to turn brown. Add in the fact that grasses grew unusually tall this year due to a cool, wet spring, and the danger is magnified.
The Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, which serves the town of Eagle and the surrounding area, responded July 11 to a small grass fire along the interstate.
District wildland fire specialist Hugh Fairfield-Smith said the fire was a small one — only about 30 by 30 feet — and was quickly extinguished.
Fairfield-Smith said the grasses along roads are called “one-hour” fuels, meaning that the characteristics of those fuels can change in a short time. Those grasses are an “area of concern” for firefighters, Fairfield-Smith said.
“If we see continual drying, we’ll have very tall, dry, cured grass,” he said.
The story is a little different in and around Vail.
Vail Fire Department wildland fire specialist Paul Cada said that area is still pretty wet. But, he added, unless there’s snow on the ground, an area can burn.
Around Vail, Cada said firefighters are always on the lookout for unattended campfires.
“It’s a constant issue,” he said.
Monsoon on the way?
At this point, the area could use some rain. It’s about time for the annual “monsoon” flow to develop, but that’s not always certain. That flow is generally an area of high pressure that draws moisture to the Rockies from either the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. That flow creates frequent afternoon and evening showers and thunderstorms.
The monsoon pattern didn’t develop in 2018, which contributed to the area’s hot, dry, fire-prone summer.
At the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, forecaster Kris Sanders said it looks like the area may be in for some precipitation over the next several days. Forecasters generally don’t like to make predictions more than about seven days out. But, Sanders said, the trends seem to favor a monsoon pattern setting up.
Those afternoon and evening showers can be a mixed blessing. Rain is good, of course, but lightning can spark fires.
“We’re hoping the rains come without lightning or wind,” LeClair said.
One vehicle came to rest in the eastbound lanes of I-70 and the second vehicle came to rest on North Frontage Road. One occupant of each vehicle was ejected during the crash.