On Coal Seam Fire anniversary, backcountry again tinder-dry | PostIndependent.com

On Coal Seam Fire anniversary, backcountry again tinder-dry

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Today marks the two-year anniversary of the Coal Seam Fire’s infamous ignition.

The fire, which started in South Canyon when dry brush and grass were ignited by an underground coal seam fire that made its way to the surface, claimed a total of 29 homes in the Glenwood area. It also burned more than 12,200 acres of land.

Despite a relatively wet spring in 2004 as compared to 2002, the National Weather Service listed fire danger in the White River National Forest on Monday as “very high,” its most dire classification.

“Over the last week, we’ve seen very warm temperatures and very dry conditions,” NWS meteorologist Dave Nadler said. “It doesn’t take long for that to happen.”

Nadler said a wet spring can actually increase an area’s potential for wildfires.

“During a wetter spring, there’s a better green-up, but with more grasses, it allows more fuel to dry up. So it’s kind of like a negative situation from a positive,” he said.

Nadler said there have been no red flag warnings ” a warning that indicates dangerously high fire danger ” in the Roaring Fork Valley area yet this year, but that could change in the coming days and weeks.

“It’s mostly in southwest Colorado at this time, but it’s starting to spread north,” Nadler said of the red flag warnings. “So I wouldn’t be surprised if Glenwood becomes part of that critical area, so we’ll be monitoring that.”

According to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, the entire state of Colorado is predicted to have above-normal fire potential through August.

Nadler concurred, saying it doesn’t take long for the green grasses to “cure.”

“A week of 90-plus temperatures and relative humidities below 15 percent will dry it out,” he said.

All this meteorological information means it’s time for campers, smokers and grill-masters to use extreme caution when using fire.

Glenwood Springs fire chief Mike Piper said conditions are eerily similar to those found here two years ago when the Coal Seam Fire erupted.

“Unfortunately, nothing’s changed,” he said. “The grass grows right back and the fire danger is a problem.”

Fortunately, one weather factor that is different today is the absence of 70-mph wind gusts that pushed the fire into the western part of the city, Piper said.

“We have some real high potential for ignition if we don’t have any moisture,” he said. “I stopped issuing burn permits on May 1.”

Piper’s advice is for residents and visitors to the area to take the danger seriously.

“Be very careful ” just be very aware of what’s going on. The slightest spark could start something,” he said.

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511 gmasse@postindependent.com

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