Fires sear the West as seasonal rains near
Numerous wildland fires are scorching the American West, with five large fires active in Colorado and 33 in total across the Western states. But forecasters hope the relief of monsoon season is right around the corner.
The Breckenridge Peak 2 Fire was burning Thursday afternoon at about 80 acres and was about 7 percent contained. About 460 homes in the nearby Peak 7 neighborhood were evacuated Wednesday, while the rest of the community was on standby. Colorado Department of Transportation tweeted Thursday morning that Colorado 9 south of Frisco may be closed at any time for fire mitigation.
The Gutzler Fire in northern Eagle County has grown to 940 acres, and is only 3 percent contained, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
In Routt County, the Mill Creek Fire has reached 452 acres and was reported Thursday to be about 25 percent contained. The East Rim Fire, burning about 300 acres in Dolores County, was reportedly 3 percent contained. And the Peekaboo Ridge Fire in Moffat County was at 4,200 acres and about 5 percent contained.
Earlier this week, crews were also battling a large fire on the side of the Hogback on a ridge near New Castle, and the 5-acre Clark Creek Fire north of Rifle.
Garfield County enacted fire restrictions last week, but those restrictions are now being broadened to a wider area.
The Bureau of Land Management announced stage 1 fire restrictions will begin Friday for the White River National Forest, BLM lands as well as unincorporated and private lands in Summit, Eagle and Rio Blanco counties. These restrictions had also already been enacted in Pitkin and Mesa counties.
The Stage 1 fire restrictions also prompted Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus to close its disc golf course until further notice. “Additionally, smoking is permitted only in the campus’ established smoke shelters in order to control any unintended sparks,” the college wrote in a news release Thursday afternoon.
The region is drier than normal for this time of year, though still not at critical levels last seen in 2012, said David Boyd, BLM’s Colorado River Field Office public information officer. Boyd is also soon to take over as the information officer for the Peak 2 fire’s incident management team.
Fire managers consider 2012 a benchmark year when fuel moisture was at critical levels statewide, the year of the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs and other major wildland fires in Colorado.
This time of year, from the late June into early July, is typically the busiest time of year for wildland fires, said Boyd.
The Hogback fire near New Castle was an example of how quickly a fire can take off, he said.
Fire danger is high for the region, which is under a very hot and dry system, said Chris Cuoco, senior forecaster and fire weather program leader at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
This is the prime time of the year for such conditions, and also the time when the region sees lots of thunderstorms with lightning creating new fires, he said. Recently, that has been the case, with numerous reports coming into the Grand Junction station about lightning-ignited fires.
“Over the next two to three days we expect to see the dry conditions and light wind to continue,” then the moisture in the area is expected to gradually increase with the onset of monsoon season, said Cuoco.
As soon as early to the middle of next week, the region could see the beginnings of monsoon season, with storm systems bringing minimal moisture at first. But gradually, those systems will bring more and more moisture.
The initial seasonal storms often don’t bring a lot of rain, but do have a lot of lightning, “so that’s a time we look for an increase in wildfire starts,” said Cuoco.
Boyd said that fire managers are hoping that monsoon season will help mitigate the region’s fires. “We’ll still have fires, but the fuel moisture will be a little higher,” he said.
In the meantime, conditions are ripe for a fire to take off, so people must be careful not to inadvertently start a blaze. Activities such as using gas-powered equipment in tall grass, firing guns into the grass and dragging trailer chains can start such wildland fires.
Several recent fires have also been started by fireworks, said Cuoco.
“All our resources are busy, so any new fire starts take away from what we’re already trying to get a handle on,” said Boyd. “It’s urgent for everyone to be super cautious.”
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