Dry conditions persist, but rain expected by weekend
Monsoon season typically starts on the first week of July in Colorado, and while the northwest part of the state has yet to get much precipitation, more rain is expected in western Garfield County over the weekend.
“Monsoon season is off to an inconsistent start,” said Chris Cuoco, a National Weather Service forecaster in Grand Junction.
While there has been some rain in the southwest part of the state, including enough to cause dangerous debris flows in the 416 Fire burn area on Tuesday, the rain north of the San Juan Mountains has been a bit spotty.
“Looking ahead, it looks like the next decent surge into northwest Colorado will likely start Saturday and last through the weekend,” Cuoco said.
He said the rain will likely dissipate by Monday, but he expects more rain to head this way by the middle of next week.
Colorado River Fire Rescue Fire Marshall Orrin Moon said that fuel moisture content percentages are still dropping in different vegetation throughout the county, particularly in areas that haven’t gotten more precipitation.
He said he doesn’t expect the district to go off Stage 2 fire restrictions until the area gets more rain.
Moon said the Bureau of Land Management recently tested locations throughout Garfield County, showing the live fuel moisture content has dropped near the Rifle Garfield County Airport and Rifle Creek to levels significantly lower than last month.
At the airport, sagebrush moisture content had dropped another 31 percent on July 15 compared to June 29, from 120 percent moisture content to just 89 percent.
For purposes of measuring moisture content in vegetation, the closer to 200 percent this time of year, the better, according to the online Fire Behavior Field Reference Guide. The lower the moisture content, the easier it is for the plants to burn.
At 75 to 100 percent moisture content for live fuels, fire will exhibit extreme fire behavior and will spread at an extreme rate, according to guidelines developed by the Nevada BLM. Fire engines and dozers may be used to back up operations, but indirect attack must be used to control these fires.
Even at 101 to 125 percent moisture content for live fuels, the fire will exhibit high fire behavior leaving no material unburned, the guidelines state.
At Middle Rifle Creek, pinyon showed a slight increase in the moisture content, testing at 94 percent on June 15 and 103 percent on July 15.
However, the juniper was at 102 percent fuel moisture content on June 15 and dropped to 79 percent on July 15.
The sagebrush in the area also tested to be very dry. Sagebrush tested at 131 percent on June 15 and went down to 94 percent by July 15.
“Most areas in our valley have not seen a lot of moisture and you can tell that by the samples,” Moon added.
After a large burn area has been created by a wildfire, such as at the Lake Christine Fire north of Basalt and El Jebel, danger can also come with monsoonal rains in the form of debris flows and mudslides.
Eagle County Emergency Manager Barry Smith will speak to that potential during a Lake Christine Fire Operations briefing Thursday afternoon at Basalt High School, along with updates on the ongoing firefighting efforts.