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Grand readies for fire season during pandemic

As drought spreads and a few sizable wildfires burn in southern Colorado, Grand County is gearing up for another fire season. Only this one will have to be managed with a pandemic in mind.

More so than ever, fire departments in the county want to stop wildfires before they start. This year, any large forest fire comes with the additional risk of spreading the coronavirus across large groups.

The logistical challenge of social distancing adds an extra layer of complexity if a wildfire fighting team has to be assembled. With other states like Arizona currently fighting some immense wildfires, officials are looking at their experience to refine this year’s efforts.

“It’s going to be interesting,” East Grand Fire District Chief Todd Holzwarth said of the fire season.

The best departments can do is quickly put out hot spots and fires before they get out of control, he explained.

Kremmling Fire Protection District Chief Tony Tucker pointed out that there have been three wildland fire incidents in his district so far this season. All were quickly handled but underscore the risk this summer.

So far, Kremmling Fire has seen a fairly low call volume. It has been business as usual with firefighters following protocols, Tucker said. Fire departments are preparing for an average or slightly above average fire season, though it’s always hard to predict.

“We’re expecting things to be a little dryer,” Holzwarth added.

The Colorado River Basin, which encompasses Grand County, saw less snowpack than last year, but it still peaked slightly above the average for the basin. Snowpack this year has looked a lot better than it did in 2018, which foreshadowed a dangerous fire season.

But snowpack alone doesn’t dictate the fire danger. The location, timing and weather conditions when a fire starts are incredibly variable, especially in Grand, making the season hard to predict.

“It probably won’t be as mellow as last year, and I hope it’s not as bad as the year before that,” Holzworth said.

Right now, the only fire restriction in Grand County is on US Forest Service lands. The fire danger is rated moderate, but the number of people coming here to recreate is growing.

“One thing we are hearing … is a possible increase in human starts due to the fact that more people are going out in the woods because they can’t do anything else,” Tucker said.

Fire departments in the county have been seeing more campfires either unattended or not properly put out. Earlier this week, the Hot Sulphur Springs/Parshall Fire Protection District responded to an unattended campfire, put it out and checked on another campsite as they passed by. They found that fire hot as well.

To make sure fires are entirely put out, you should drown the fire in water, stir the area with a shovel and feel it with the back of your hand to make sure nothing is smoldering. Repeat the process until the fire is entirely out before leaving it.

The best thing locals and visitors can do is practice common sense measures. That means being mindful with the disposal of cigarettes, and as the holiday weekend approaches, being extremely careful with sparklers and other flammable novelties.

“Be cognizant of conditions and follow all appropriate guidelines that the state and feds are giving out in regard to potential closures and restrictions,” Tucker said.

Other resources and tips for wildfire prevention in Grand County can be found at bewildfireready.org.


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