Fire danger jumps to very high in Grand County
Grand County has gone from low fire danger to very high fire danger in just over a day.
Warm temperatures, high winds and dry fuels mean fire season has come early to Grand and the Western Slope, and that comes with an extra wariness for locals. Fire officials put out the warning Friday for a very high risk of fire danger.
“We don’t normally see the conditions we’re seeing this early in the season,” said Schelly Olson, chair of the Grand County Wildfire Council and assistant chief of the Grand Fire Protection District.
The county is not currently under any fire restrictions, but that could change depending on the weather.
Fire danger calculations are based in part on the energy release component, which correlates how hot a fire will burn and how hard it will be to control fires. The ERC for the zone that includes Grand County has spiked over the past couple days.
“Conditions are changing so rapidly — we went from low to high and then immediately to very high really quickly,” Olson said. “All of the fire professionals and the sheriff, because he is the fire warden of the county, we are talking about this on a daily basis.”
Drought is another consideration when it comes to fire danger, and Grand County is drier now than it was this time last year.
According to the US Drought Monitor, in June 2020, just the southern tip of the county was facing abnormally dry conditions while the rest of Grand had no drought at all. That still preceded a devastating fire season for the county.
In the drought monitor map release Thursday, all of Grand is in drought conditions ranging from abnormally dry to exceptional drought as you move west across the county.
Early June has seen above average temperatures in Grand, according to the Colorado Climate Center, and water levels are low. Following a dry summer last year, Grand saw below-average snowpack that did not help to moisten fuels.
“We went into this drought this time last year and then it just got worse and worse and worse,” County Manager Ed Moyer said during an update on water to commissioners Tuesday. “Going into winter without (moisture) and then having a below average snowpack year — it’s just a recipe for disaster.”
Fire season seems to have begun. On Thursday, the Straight Creek Fire broke out near Dillon and has grown to 15 acres. Grand has seen smoke haze drifting in from neighboring states as well.
For a county still reeling from October’s East Troublesome Fire, it’s more important than ever to be aware of fire danger.
“Even though we’re not in a fire restriction, we have to stress how important it is not to be irresponsible about burning,” Olson said.
Moving the county into any fire restrictions is based on eight criteria of which four must be met. As of Monday, when Grand meets with regional partners about fire restrictions, the county met three of the criteria: fuels at critical or near critical levels, a high energy release component, and drought.
County fire officials will meet with partners again this Monday to go over restrictions. The sheriff is expected to discuss possibly moving into Stage 1 restrictions on Tuesday with county commissioners.
“(Fire season) is here — as much as I didn’t want it to be,” Olson said.
Visitors and locals are reminded to check conditions before starting a fire and to never burn during Red Flag Warnings. When it is safe to burn, don’t build fires larger than three feet in diameter and make sure to completely put out a fire before leaving it.
Slash burning is not permitted during summer months and burn barrels are illegal. Dispose of cigarettes, cigars and pipes where they cannot be a source of ignition.
Check local fire danger and learn more about preparing for and preventing wildfires at BeWildfireReady.org.
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