Late July weather good for berries, tough on firefighters |

Late July weather good for berries, tough on firefighters

Dry storm made fire fighting tougher

The hot, dry weather that prevailed though the latter two-thirds of July is producing a good crop of thimbleberries, which are just beginning to ripen on lower Ted's Ridge.
Tom Ross

— The afternoon thundershowers, which brought Steamboat Springs a little relief from the heat July 31, weren’t so welcome just across the Continental Divide in North Park, where they only served to spread the Beaver Creek Fire in all directions. As of Monday morning, the flames were moving in the direction of the North Platte River near where it enters Wyoming.

Precipitation amounts near Steamboat varied slightly Sunday afternoon — with weather stations located within a mile of the city reporting a little less than a 10th of an inch. Because 24-hour precipitation totals are recorded at 7 a.m. daily, that moisture didn’t make it into July totals. But in spite of a 16-day run from July 6 to July 21 when no measurable rain fell, the monthly total of 1.62 inches still managed to surpass the July average of 1.52 inches.

Nearly two-thirds of July’s moisture fell in the first five days of the month.

Since then, fuels have continued to dry out and the Beaver Creek Fire, believed to be human-caused, has continued to grow to 33,193 acres, according to the Aug. 1 report.

According to a news release, when firefighters battling the Beaver Creek Fire began their day Sunday morning steady winds from the west made the blaze predictable and allowed them to position themselves to safely combat it. That changed as erratic winds generated by storms caused the fire to expand in all directions.

“In the early afternoon, thunderstorms approached Walden,” the release reported. “As they neared the fire, the system collapsed, sending out massive outflow winds.”

Wind gusts pushed the fire in all directions, and firefighters faced extreme fire behavior on multiple fronts.

“In the southeast section, long-range spotting spread the fire eastward below Parsons Draw and the Trophy Mountain Ranch towards the Platte River,” the release stated.

Steamboat-based meteorologist Mike Weissbluth, of the SnowAlarm blog, said the multi-directional winds fire fighters experienced July 31 could have resulted from precipitation in the form of virga evaporating and cooling the dry air, causing it to sink rapidly and spread out upon reaching the ground.

Steamboat Today reported July 30 from the fire scene that suppression efforts are averaging $280,000 a day including $50,000 per day for the use of a Chinook helicopter, with the total cost approximating $15 million.

Monday’s news release reported that the Type II Incident Management Team led by Incident Commander Jon Warder will be relieved by a National Incident Management Organization Team as of 6 a.m. Aug. 2.

Weissbluth said Steamboat’s next best chance for wetting rains could arrive Aug. 4 and 5 when a wave of moisture crosses the area.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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