Colorado on high fire alert, but Summit and neighbors faring well |

Colorado on high fire alert, but Summit and neighbors faring well

Caddie Nath
Summit Daily News
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

With most of Colorado on high fire alert heading into Labor Day Weekend, a moist Summit County may be a bit safer from wildfire than other parts of the state.

A long, hot summer, drying fuels and the potential for a windy weekend are factors putting many parts of Colorado – including much of the Western Slope – at an elevated risk of wildfires at the start of the holiday weekend, according to a warning issued by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office Friday.

“Coloradans and visitors to our state should be concerned with fire danger right now and take extra steps to prevent human-caused wildfires,” Hickenlooper stated in a release Friday.

But heading into the last big camping weekend of the summer, Summit County’s fire danger rating is at “moderate,” and the county has only seen two short-lived spikes to “high” this summer.

“We’ve had a good summer in terms of having enough rainfall to have kept the danger down,” Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue spokesman Steve Lipsher said. “Our fire danger peaked at a high level for two days and then we got a rain storm. We’ve been fortunate to have had regular enough rainfall along the way.”

But, with acres of lodgepole pines standing dead as a result of the pine beetle infestation, fire officials say even a wet summer doesn’t completely mitigate the fire danger.

“This is the time of year when the grasses tend to cure and the weather seems to dry out and we’re seeing that right on schedule,” Lipsher said.

And the risk of a wildland fire always increases on holiday weekends, experts say, when recreationalists take to the forests for camping and trail riding. Wildfires are often started by unattended or poorly extinguished campfires or sparks from ATV, dirt bikes or other engines on the trails.

Boulder’s devastating Fourmile Canyon Fire started on Labor Day last year.

“The holiday weekends are key times when, especially because all those people are out there, we have a heightened awareness,” Lipsher said. “We definitely want people to be careful with fire. We are holding our breath all the time about what a neglected campfire or an ill-timed spark from an (engine) or a lightening strike could do in terms of starting a major forest fire. That is almost regardless of how much rain we have because our forests are so unhealthy.”

State fire experts say prolonged heat waves – last month was Colorado’s hottest August on record – and unstable air masses that could create windy conditions put much of the state, particularly the northwest, at heightened risk of wildfires.

Local officials recommend dousing campfires with water, sifting the embers to ensure there are no remaining sparks and then dousing the site again before leaving a fire pit.

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