Winds, low humidity prompt ‘red flag’ warning in Eagle County for Sunday, June 10 | VailDaily.com

Winds, low humidity prompt ‘red flag’ warning in Eagle County for Sunday, June 10

Fire crews work to put out a brush fire on the eastbound side of Interstate 70 on June 28, 2017 in Avon. A dry spring this year has prompted a handful of "red flag" warnings for the area, but no fire restrictions have been imposed so far.

EAGLE COUNTY — There aren't any local fire restrictions — yet. But it's a good time to be exceedingly careful.

The National Weather Service has issued a "red flag" fire weather warning for Sunday, June 10. That means it's a really, really good day to not burn anything. A combination of low humidity, stout winds and warm temperatures mean that any fire that sparks could get out of control quickly.

The most recent warning is one of several one-day warnings issued so far in this dry, warm, windy spring season. Despite those warnings, fire officials in Eagle County have yet to impose fire restrictions. That means campfires are allowed, and agricultural burning permits will be issued — although those permits aren't valid on red flag days.

Fire officials throughout the Colorado River watershed get together weekly via conference call to talk about topics including snowpack, temperature, wind and the amount of moisture in grasses, trees and shrubs.

Moisture in those plants can be deceiving. Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak said an area can look green but still have low enough moisture that it will burn, and quickly.

Fuel moisture can vary widely, particularly between grasses and trees. A bit of rain, or even a heavy dew, can drop the flammability of grasses, but days of rain won't much affect dead timber.

Recommended Stories For You

At the moment, conditions in Mesa and Garfield counties have prompted fire officials to impose "stage one" restrictions. Those restrictions limit most burning but allow campfires in fire rings in established campgrounds.

Avoiding confusion

Some of the territory covered by the Gypsum Fire Protection District is in Garfield County, so that agency is dealing with areas with and without restrictions. That can be confusing.

That's why fire officials in Eagle County include the entire county in any restrictions. That's despite the wide variety of terrain in the county. Just between Avon's Wildridge neighborhood and Beaver Creek, you can quickly move from high desert to high alpine terrain.

"We try to have a consistent message," Novak said, adding that when it comes to restrictions, fire officials lean toward being more cautious.

Caution will be the watchword throughout the summer and fall.

While officials are hopeful the summer's annual monsoonal flow will bring much-needed moisture to the region, planning has to account for continued dry weather.

What about the Fourth?

That includes the coming Fourth of July holiday and its fireworks shows.

Fire officials the length of the valley say it's too soon to say whether or not those shows will go on. But conditions are monitored daily.

Gypsum and Eagle alternate hosting the annual downvalley show, and it's Gypsum's turn this year.

Daniel Valdez, of Gypsum's fire department, said if Eagle County is under fire restrictions, that department will probably recommend canceling the show.

"We have to be the example, not the exception," Valdez said.

But if the fire restrictions aren't in effect for the holiday, Valdez said it's likely the show will go on. Gypsum's fireworks will be launched from the ballfields just to the east of town hall. Those fields are a combination of watered grass and artificial turf, so embers can land safely. But winds can push those embers into nearby sagebrush, so it will be important to keep track of fuel moisture content.

The same is true in Vail and Avon.

Avon, of course, hosts the biggest fireworks show in the area the evening of July 3. That show draws thousands of people to town.

Tracy LeClair, public information officer for the Avon-based Eagle River Fire Protection District, said it's ultimately up to the entities that put on displays. But, she added, those entities are "very conscientious" about safety.

Still, economic issues play a role in both issuing fire restrictions and recommendations about public gatherings, including fireworks shows.

"We want to make sure we do it right," LeClair said. "We want to do as little harm as possible to the economy … but public safety is our No. 1 priority."

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

What’s a ‘red flag’ warning?

According to the National Weather Service, “A Red Flag Warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will shortly. A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior.”