Could fire happen in Summit County? |

Could fire happen in Summit County?

Jane Stebbins

SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County is surrounded.

As of Monday, nearly 85,000 acres of forest had burned in Colorado, leaving people without a home, closing Interstate 70 and igniting fear in local officials that such devastation could occur here.

There are no burning coal seams to ignite the land in Summit County, as there are near Glenwood Springs, where at least 10,000 acres have burned. The fire there started when flames from a 90-year-old underground coal-fed fire reached the surface and ignited dry grasses and trees west of the town of 7,000.

But Summit County has lightning strikes – hundreds an hour during a rainstorm. But it’s people who start the majority of fires in the High Country.

An illegal campfire Saturday started the Hayman fire east of Hartsel; the people there had been warned three times to extinguish it. Cigarette butts, barbecues and fireworks start many more each year in Colorado.

“People are the worst,” said Red, White and Blue Fire Chief John Moles, who sent a truck and four firefighters to aid firefighters in Glenwood Springs. “We’ve got extreme conditions. And there’s no relief in sight.”

Residents on Juniata Circle atop Baldy Mountain were witness to two Dumpster fires in 10 days recently, when linseed oil – a highly flammable product – spontaneously ignited, threatening nearby trees.

“It scared the hell out of the residents up there,” Moles said. “There were brands coming down all over the place, 20-foot flames coming out of the top. SUMMIT COUNTY – Record heat is only exacerbating Summit County’s fire danger, further drying out already dry trees and grasses.

“We usually don’t see temperatures like these until July and August,” said Dillon Dam caretaker Dave Fernandez. “The average maximum temperature for June is 68.8 degrees. We’re well above our averages.”

The temperature hit 80 degrees Sunday, 79 on Saturday and 77 on Friday.

Fernandez suspects the county’s all-time highest temperature of 85 degrees may be shattered this summer. So far, dam caretakers have recorded an 85-degree reading just twice: on July 21, 1998 and Aug. 9, 1969.

Their thermometer is set up near Corinthian Hills, east of the reservoir. Fernandez said the proximity to the water “might somewhat” influence the readings. Dam workers have been recording temperatures there for more than 40 years.

They also measure precipitation, another weather factor that is far from normal this season.

“We’re way behind on precipitation,” Fernandez said. “So far, we’ve got 2.88 inches for the year. Through May, we should have received 6.91 inches.”

The heat, combined with wind and the preceding dry winter, make Summit County’s potential for fire every bit as high as in parts of the state that already are burning.

“We have just as high a danger as Glenwood Springs and the Deckers area,” said Summit County wildfire officer Patti Macguire. “If we had some good afternoon monsoons like we usually do in June, it would help a lot. With these conditions, when you do have wildfire, it’s going to be more aggressive. It’s not worth it to have open flame right now. It’s not worth it to smoke a cigarette outside in the wind.”

Fernandez sees the effects of the wind on the reservoir.

“Just because of the dry wind with its low humidity, we’re seeing reservoir surface evaporation,” he said.

“On the positive side, we’ve actually gained 2 feet in elevation since our low on May 16 because of runoff. We were 25.8 feet down. Now we’re 23.8 feet down. And we’re still gaining, not much, but maybe a half inch a day.”

But because the runoff peaked June 2, Fernandez doesn’t expect those gains to be made for much more than another two weeks.

“Then it will go down again,” he said.

County enacts more strict fire ban

BRECKENRIDGE – County Commissioners Monday afternoon voted to strengthen the fire ban currently in place.

The new ban prohibits fireworks – even the legal ones – and all open fires, including those in improved campgrounds and in rings or grates on private property. Permitted are fires within liquid-fueled or gas-fueled stoves, fireplaces or stoves in buildings, charcoal grills at private residences and fires authorized by a local fire protection district, the U.S. Forest Service or county Environmental Health Department.

The ban, which is effective immediately and has no set deadline, was put in place due to extremely dry conditions and wildfires that have scorched thousands of acres in Colorado this weekend.

– Daily staff report

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