Vail Valley quickly drying from recent strong winds
The haze that enveloped the Vail Valley on Monday was smoke from out-of-state fires carried by strong winds.
Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek, the county’s fire warden — the chief fire official — said the smoke has been carried from wildfires in Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Utah.
Those winds have been sucking the moisture from local vegetation and snowpack from higher elevations. But vegetation moisture isn’t in the danger zone — for the moment.
Moisture in grasses, shrubs and trees is one element in determining wildfire danger, with relative humidity, temperature and wind making up the rest of the equation. The latter three elements are in the range the National Weather Service uses when it issues red flag fire weather warnings. Fuel moisture may soon drop into the danger zone.
“We’re watching it closely,” van Beek said.
Eagle River Fire Protection District community risk manager and public information officer Tracy LeClair said without rain, the combination of wind, heat and dryness will likely lead to the need to impose Stage 1 fire restrictions sooner than later.
While fuel moisture isn’t at critical levels yet, grasses can still burn with only a little spark.
A small fire sparked Sunday evening just before 7 p.m. just off the shoulder of Interstate 70 west of Dotsero. The fire closed both directions of the interstate for a while, and the eastbound lanes for a few hours.
Daniel Valdez of the Gypsum Fire Protection District said Monday that fire burned between one and two acres, but no structures were harmed.
That fire drew a large, quick response. Valdez said crews from the Eagle-based Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, Eagle River Fire, and units from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management all responded to the fire. The Colorado State Patrol, Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado Department of Transportation also responded. The transportation department sent a fire truck based at the Hanging Lake tunnels in Glenwood Canyon.
Valdez said it’s likely that the fire was sparked by something coming off the highway, whether a carelessly tossed cigarette or, perhaps, a spark from dragging chains.
Valdez said just past 6:30 p.m. Gypsum fire was already responding to a smoke report from Red Hill. That turned out to be just dust from all-terrain vehicles.
With fire danger rising, there isn’t much immediate relief on the way.
Dan Cuevas, a meteorologist in the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said the strong winds may moderate later in the week, only to pick up again heading into the weekend.
The weekend may be the best chance for some precipitation, Cuevas added, with temperatures climbing again into next week.
While the area will stay mostly dry, van Beek said there may be some relief on the horizon. June is forecast to be dryer than normal, he said, adding that July and August can bring monsoonal moisture to the Rockies.
Until the dry spell breaks, van Beek and other fire officials are urging caution.
“It’s going to take everyone doing their part,” he said.