Memorial Day typically marks the beginning of the wildfire season in Summit County and despite high water dominating the early summer headlines, local fire officials say a wildfire can still ignite in many areas of the county.
“We want to keep awareness of wildfire danger front and center in people’s minds,” said Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue deputy chief Jeff Berino in a news release. “As we have seen in other communities throughout Colorado and the West, the effects of a wildfire can be absolutely devastating and even deadly, so we want to remind people constantly that fire is a real threat here in Summit County and we need everyone to remain careful and vigilant.”
In an effort to keep the public informed about wildfire danger, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue officials last month installed wildfire-rating signs on main thoroughfares throughout the district and began publishing wildfire-hazard ratings in the Summit Daily News.
Those ratings are determined by daily evaluations of plant- and tree-moisture levels, weather conditions and forecasts of thunderstorm activity, high winds, relative humidity and drought, and a variety of other factors, including the availability of national firefighting resources and the increased population from tourism, the release stated.
Although fire conditions can vary greatly by region within the county — the Lower Blue valley can be very dry while the Upper Blue is still buried in snow, for example, and rain showers can drench one area and completely skip another — the intention is to provide a single, countywide daily rating to avoid any confusion about when open burning is allowed or when the danger is high enough to warrant special consideration, the release stated.
The five-point, color-coded wildfire rating system is defined as follows:
• Low — Green
Fuels do not ignite readily. A more intense heat source, such as lightning or matches, may start fires in grasslands. Fires in cured grasslands or meadows may burn freely a few hours after rain. However, in woods and conifer stands, fires may spread slowly by creeping or smoldering. There is little danger of spot fires.
• Moderate — Blue
Fires can start from most accidental causes. However, with the exception of lightning fires, ignitions are generally low. Fires in open grassland or meadows will burn briskly and spread rapidly on windy days. Timber fires spread slowly to moderately. The average fire is of moderate intensity, although heavy concentrations of fuel may burn with more intensity. Short-distance spot fires may occur. Fires are generally not likely to become serious and control is relatively easy.
• High — Yellow
All fine dead fuels ignite readily and fires start from most causes. Unattended brush and campfires are likely to escape. Fires spread rapidly and short-distance spot fires are common. High-intensity burning may develop on slopes or in concentrations of fine fuels. Fires may become serious and their control may be difficult. No open slash burning or large burn piles are allowed in Summit County when the wildfire danger is at “high” or above. Recreational campfires — less than 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet high — are permitted unless there is a state or county burn ban in effect.
• Very High — Orange
Fires start easily from all causes and, immediately after ignition, spread rapidly and increase quickly in intensity. Spot fires are a constant danger. Crown fires may be present and move aggressively during a wind event. Fires burning in light fuels may quickly develop high intensity characteristics, such as long-distance spot fires.
• Extreme — Red
Fires start quickly, spread quickly and burn with high intensity. All fires are potentially extremely serious. Direct attack is rarely possibly and may be dangerous except immediately after ignition. Fires that develop headway in heavy slash, jackstraw, blow down or in conifer stands may be unmanageable. Under these conditions, the only effective and safe control actions are on the flanks and heel of the fire. Extreme caution shall be utilized by all suppression personnel.