Summit County fire danger upgraded to “very high” as wildfires ravage Western U.S.
Fire danger was upgraded to very high in Summit County on Tuesday as officials warned that fuels had dried out significantly over the weekend and that weather wasn’t expected to cool any time soon.
On top of the added danger, officials said, fire resources are extremely limited across the West as crews battle blazes raging in California, Oregon, Montana and Washington.
Fire danger hasn’t been this high in Summit County since the Peak 2 Fire in early July, which burned 82 acres but was quickly suppressed with the help of smokejumpers, air tankers and helicopters.
With so many fires burning across the West, however, those might not be available in a pinch.
“Suppression and overhead resources across the country are extremely limited due to multiple large fires in the northwest and in California,” Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue chief Jeff Berino said in an email Tuesday morning. “Resources on the Western Slope of Colorado are very thin right now, so we all need to remain alert.”
On Monday, the day before the upgrade to very high, a small grass fire broke out near Breckenridge in the Gold Hill area, but a crew from the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District quickly extinguished it. The agency believes a cigarette butt may have caused the 10-by-10-foot blaze.
“Grasses are extremely dry and nearing the conditions of a couple of months ago, so we are asking the public to be extra vigilant with any outdoor burning and discarded smoking materials,” RWB chief Jim Keating said. “A single smoldering ember from a past campfire can quickly spell disaster.”
Several wildfires are currently active in Colorado. The largest, the Big Red Fire north of Steamboat Springs, has grown in recent days to 1,400 acres and is expected to burn more as dry conditions persist and winds whip it eastward toward the Continental Divide.
Most of the thick haze visible throughout Summit County on Monday and Tuesday, however, had blown in from the Northwest.
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Forecasters predicted it would start thinning during the day Tuesday, but the county health department still warned that smoke levels in Summit had reached moderate to unhealthy levels.
Smoke becomes unhealthy when it reduces visibility to 5 miles. For Dillon and Frisco residents, that would mean being unable to see Buffalo Mountain, and in Breckenridge it would mean not being able to see the tops of the ski area, the county said.
If visibility gets that low, officials advised people stay indoors, particularly the elderly or those with heart or respiratory problems.
Some of the most significant fire activity is happening in Montana, where roughly 500,000 acres have burned this summer.
A three-person crew and wildfire engine from RWB have been assisting at the Lolo Peak Fire near Florence, Montana, since mid-August. That fire has now burned roughly 50,000 acres and still has only limited containment, Keating said.
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Across the country, fire agencies have deployed more than 40 Type 1 and Type 2 incident management teams, which are reserved for only the most high-risk fires — including July’s Peak 2 Fire, which forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes near Breckenridge.
Hurricane Harvey, which unleashed devastating and unprecedented flooding on Houston last week, has also strained emergency responders. Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm heading towards Florida, is already drawing crews for pre-deployment, as well.
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