Still too early for fire restrictions in Routt County, as agencies further south add burning bans
Wind conditions could approach red flag warning levels in Northwest Colorado
Wind gusts up to 40 mph blew an agricultural burn into a larger fire than the landowner could handle themselves on Tuesday, April 19, leading to a roughly acre-sized fire north of Hayden that has since been extinguished.
Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue responded to a small grass fire in the south valley just after 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 21.
As agencies further south in Colorado are already starting to issue fire restrictions, Routt County is likely several weeks away from taking such steps. Still, local fire experts say pockets of land are already susceptible to fire and wind conditions that on Friday could approach red flag warning levels.
“During ag burn season, everybody is trying to get it done before it’s too dry, and of course we’ve got spring weather that seems to take people by surprise a lot,” said West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Trevor Guire. “Driving winds putting fire in places they didn’t expect, winds changing direction, that type of thing.”
Guire said he was concerned about strong winds forecasted for Friday, April 22, which could bring gusts up to 30 mph in Steamboat Springs and stronger further west toward Craig. He encouraged those conducting these burns to report them ahead of time to Routt County Dispatch.
Kris Sanders, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the NWS hasn’t heard from fire officials out of Craig that fuels will by dry enough for a red flag warning on Friday, but winds and dew points would be near that level.
“They haven’t told us the fuels are critical yet but there’s cured grasses and things like that from over the winter that can light up,” Sanders said. “Definitely a concern, but not as much as us issuing (a red flag warning.)”
Last year, a coordinated effort among the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, local fire districts and Routt County put Stage 1 fire restrictions in place on June 16, just days before the start of the Muddy Slide Fire in South Routt County.
That coordination will happen again this year with weekly meetings with various agencies that will start back up in a few weeks, Guire said.
“Change in weather, relative humidity and fuel moistures, we discuss all of that and we make a decision whether we’re going to enact fire restrictions or not at that point,” Guire said.
The BLM instituted Stage 1 fire restrictions on land it controls in 13 Colorado counties near the Royal Gorge on Wednesday, April 20.
Much of Routt County still has a blanket of snow keeping fire risks generally low, so it is still too early to say whether fire restrictions may need to be put in place earlier than in the past.
“I’m not going to take a guess — not yet,” said Oak Creek Fire Protection District Chief Brady Glauthier.
How fast snow melts and the moisture content of the ground are also important factors to consider, Glautheir said.
Aaron Voos, a public affairs specialists for the Routt-Medicine Bow National Forest and the Thunder Basin Nation Grassland, said while they haven’t considered any restrictions locally, talks about instituting them in the grassland have come up.
“It’s really dry and windy right now, and green up hasn’t occurred,” Voos said. “There’s a certain amount of time between snow melt and then green up where there’s high fire danger. … We weren’t meeting the criteria to go into fire restrictions, but it is always discussed and thought about.”
While each of the fire districts could institute their own fire bans, Guire said he can’t remember a time when it wasn’t coordinated across the county. Commissioner Tim Redmond said typically the recommendation to institute a fire ban would come from the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.
“(The Sheriff’s Office) will come one day and we will have a special meeting to put it in place,” Redmond said. “Once it gets to that level, we can act very quickly. … We want to be as proactive as possible, but it needs to be based on science.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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