Red flag in effect |

Red flag in effect

Donna Gray
Post Independent Staff

Although the 2005 fire season has not shown signs of heating up, that might change if current weather ” high winds and low humidity ” keeps up.

A red flag warning is in effect below 6,000 feet in the central Colorado River Basin, said Lee Rickard, fire management officer for the Upper Colorado Interagency Fire Management Center in Rifle. A red flag warning is high probability of a large, quickly moving fire if there is “ignition,” fire-speak for a lightning strike or human-caused fire source.

Fire danger on Wednesday was moderate to high depending on fuel type, with high danger in grasslands and pinon and juniper areas and moderate in timber and shrublands.

In the area the center covers, lightning caused two fires in single trees; the fires were reported and extinguished within the past two weeks, Rickard said. That area covers from De Beque on the west, north to Craig, south to Montrose and east to Aspen. Fortunately, the lightning that has struck thus far has been accompanied by rain. However, dry lightning is most often the cause of wildland fires. The weather report for next week is calling for dry lightning, Rickard added.

Rickard said the fire season appears to be getting off to a slow start but could go one of two ways this year.

“My gut feeling is it will be an average fire year,” he said. “It’s still pretty wet up high, and we haven’t had the starts yet. We’re kind of behind the curve.”

Three years ago, Glenwood Springs saw one of the worst fires in recent memory. On June 7, 2002, the Coal Seam Fire started in South Canyon, when an underground coal seam fire that made its way to the surface ignited dry brush and grass. The fire claimed a total of 29 homes in the Glenwood area and burned more than 12,200 acres of land.

But there is another scenario for 2005 that is just as likely.

“With the growth we’ve had, if the grass cures out with this weather and if we get ignition, it could be one of the biggest seasons. It depends on how the weather goes,” Rickard said.

The Upper Colorado group is now in full preparation mode for this year’s fire season, Rickard said. New crews have been hired, and refresher firefighting training occurs in May and June.

The center has also acquired a new Bell L4 helicopter to drop water on and ferry firefighting crews to fires. The center has a five-man Initial Attack Squad that hikes into fires, as well as three engines staffed by three to five firefighters.

Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510

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