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Getting `back to normal,’ but not there yet

Heather McGregor

Glenwood Springs is in the middle of a very successful Strawberry Days.

Tourists and locals turned out this weekend to watch the parade, shop the booths, enjoy the carnival rides, listen to music, relax and have fun.

The haze that clouded the valley has begun to clear away.

Our backyard wildfire is 90 percent contained and no longer sending up worrisome smoke plumes on the horizon.

A bit of rain fell just after dawn on Saturday.

We might be tempted to think that life in the valley is getting back to normal.

But we’re not there yet.

More than 100 firefighters are still working to fully contain the Coal Seam Fire on the Flat Tops and patrol the burned area south of the Colorado River. The fire camp and helibase are now in Spring Valley on the Colorado Mountain College campus.

They continue to deal with rough terrain and hazardous conditions, including dead standing trees prone to toppling over, dry lightning and downdrafts.

And hundreds of families across Colorado, including 29 in Glenwood Springs, are trying to put their lives back together after losing their homes to wildfire.

Gusty winds, low humidity, high temperatures and very dry conditions continue to keep the risk of wildfire extreme.

The Coal Seam Fire may be close to containment, but as we have seen in southern Colorado, a new wildfire could start anytime, anyplace.

Glenwood Springs has joined neighboring communities in canceling its 4th of July fireworks display. Private use of fireworks is already prohibited under the statewide fire ban.

And the city will likely also join its neighbors this week in imposing mandatory restrictions on outdoor watering and car washing. Flows in No Name and Grizzly creeks have tapered off, and there just isn’t enough water for everyone to have a lush green lawn right now.

Reservoirs did not fill this spring, and in rural areas, holders of junior water rights have been cut off from irrigation far earlier than normal. Many ranchers will sell all or most of their herds because they won’t be able to grow enough hay this summer to keep cattle fed through next winter.

We are experiencing one of the worst droughts on record. It’s certainly worse than the last serious drought many people remember in 1977.

For 25 years, hydrologists considered 1977 to be the rock bottom year, although tree-ring studies showed that more serious and more prolonged droughts plagued the Southwest over the previous millennium.

We can only hope and pray that the summer monsoons will arrive on schedule in mid-July, and that next winter’s snowfall will mark a return to normal levels.

And we must take every precaution to avoid new fire starts. Enough fires will start by lightning – and coal seams, for heaven’s sake – to keep our country’s overstretched fire crews busy.

Friday’s tragic rollover accident on Interstate 70 near Parachute, which killed four firefighters and critically injured three others, shows how hard fire crews are pushing to meet the demand for their services.

Generally, this newspaper believes that wildfire is a rejuvenating influence on the landscape. But in extreme conditions as we have now, combined with 100 years of fire suppression, wildfires quickly become catastrophic. Let’s save the controlled burns for another year.

If you see someone smoking, setting off fireworks, burning a campfire or taking any other risks that could start a fire, advise them to knock it off.

Risky behavior with fire and sparks is simply not socially acceptable.

– Heather McGregor, Managing Editor


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