Grand County remains fire-restriction free, but don’t hold your breath

Smokey the Bear points to high fire danger in the Grand Lake area at the fire station on Highway 34 in this 2016 file photo. Daily fire danger represents one of eight factors officials use to consider instituting fire restrictions.
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News archive

For the first time since 2019, Grand County has gone through most of July with no fire restrictions. That does not mean they won’t come, though.

Brandon Voegtle, a Bureau of Land Management Northwest District fire management specialist, started his position in 2020 and could not find the data he wanted from 2019, but thought that “pretty wet year” would have been the last one similar to 2022.

The two years in between contrasted the moisture of 2019, he said.

“Typically around the first of July, we start to get monsoonal moisture (that) will push up out of the Gulf of Mexico,” Voegtle said. “Then (it) really starts to hit the central mountains in Colorado hard. (In) 2020, those never came up, which was weird and kind of rare. So things started to get really, really dry.”

Colorado — and especially Grand County — has had no lack of monsoonal rain this summer. As of now, only 0.9% of people in the county are affected by drought. The moisture has contributed to keeping fire restrictions at bay, but Voegtle said it is not the only factor considered in declaring restrictions.

Multiple entities in Grand County can declare fire restrictions, including the county itself, the BLM and two national forests. All of them participate in a weekly call with other governments and agencies in northwest Colorado to discuss fire restrictions.

Paul Mintier, the fire management officer for the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, represents the county on the interagency calls, which Voegtle helps run. Mintier said Grand uses the calls to work with other agencies in the county to make decisions together.

“We always try to go into restrictions together,” Mintier said. “If we didn’t do that … it’s just so confusing to the public. So we always try to make sure that we go in and out of restrictions for the entire county.”

Voegtle said representatives on the interagency call discuss eight factors to decide if they should consider fire restrictions. Six factors are climatological, and they include the 1,000-hour fuel moisture and live fuel moisture, which focus on the moisture in dead and living plants respectively, as well as the current adjective fire danger rating, the level of recent human-caused fires in an area, drought indicators and the presence of adverse fire weather in the forecast.

The other two categories are business restriction factors. Agencies consider potential hazards or impacts on economic, social and public health environments and the availability of firefighting resources. When an area meets four of the factors, the agencies responsible should consider, but do not have to implement, stage one fire restrictions.

After implementing stage one restrictions, agencies start considering stage two once their area meets five factors; they consider stage three when it meets seven factors. Voegtle said stage three restrictions constitute complete closure.

This summer’s rainfall has helped Grand County avoid reaching the four-factor barrier. At the last interagency fire restriction meeting, the county met two fire restriction criteria — the 1,000-hour fuel moistures, which Voegtle said might be an inaccurate reading, and drought indicators, despite the county experiencing minimal drought.

Despite the wet conditions and few fire restriction criteria currently met, Mintier said the monsoon season should come to an end soon and lead to drier conditions and lower fuel moisture.

Drier conditions in August, September and October will have Grand County “head towards a time when fire restrictions may come into play,” Mintier said.

Mintier said weather and fuel conditions will dictate when or if restrictions come, but he can not be sure how far away the county is from facing restrictions.

“Are we two weeks? Are we a month? I just can’t say right now, but we will probably trend towards the conditions that would make us consider fire restrictions,” Mintier said.

To learn more about fire restrictions, check the Grand County Wildfire Council website, which features current fire restrictions and the daily fire danger.

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