Summit County’s fire danger level could be revised following small wildfire outside Frisco

Forest Service: Fire was human caused; dry weather could increase future risk

Robert Tann/Summit Daily News
A U.S. Forest Service-contracted helicopter is pictured after dropping water over a small wildfire that ignited outside Frisco on Sunday, July 9.
Robert Tann/Summit Daily News

U.S. Forest Service officials are poised to reconsider wildfire danger in Summit County and beyond following a small wildfire that ignited outside Frisco on Sunday, July 9.

Currently, the county and surrounding region remain at low risk for wildfires, thanks in part to significant ground moisture from a snowy winter and rainy spring. 

“It’s really important that we don’t let down our guard and think just because our fire danger is low we are not facing any threat,” Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher said. 

Sunday’s fire, which was reported at around 12:30 p.m. after sparking near the Meadow Creek trailhead, billowed smoke that could be seen from Interstate 70 near Frisco. About 20 firefighters were called to the scene as three engines and a Forest Service-contracted helicopter worked to quell the flames. No evacuation orders were issued. 

The fire grew to roughly three-tenths of an acre, less than the size of a football field, according to Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi. The helicopter was able to deliver enough water to help officials on the ground, who are currently in what Bianchi called the “mop-up phase” of extinguishing flames. 

The fire is not expected to be fully contained until at least Monday, and depending on factors like wind, smoke could resume. Still, Bianchi expressed confidence that officials’ efforts, aided by wet foliage, were enough to prevent the flames from growing. 

Bianchi said the fire is believed to be human caused, likely from a campfire. And despite the wet weather of the past months, the county has recently found itself in a dry spell, raising the stakes for wildfire safety. 

“Things are drying out, and we want people to be conscious and aware that fires can start as it did today,” Bianchi said. 

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For most of the winter and summer, precipitation remained at or above average thanks to consistent snowfall and rain. In Dillon, for example, the town saw roughly double its average rainfall for the month of May at 2.6 inches, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Kari Bowen. 

But in the past 15 days, the county has hovered at 10% of its 30-year-average for precipitation, Bowen said. 

Rainfall for the second half of June and beginning of July has been around an inch less than normal, and temperatures remain slightly above average. According to data from the High Plains Regional Climate Center, Summit County received less than half an inch of rain between June 25 and July 8. 

“That probably has caused some more dry fuels in those areas,” Bowen said. “When you have a lot of precipitation early on and get a lot of good growth and then see prolonged drying, a lot of those finer fuels can dry out more quickly.” 

Winds, which Bowen called another major factor for wildfire risk, reached speeds of 18 mph on Sunday. Wind gusts could reach speeds of 30 mph later this week, according to Weather Service forecasts.

Downed and dead trees can also provide ample kindle for wildfires amid dry conditions, Bowen said. That was the case for the fire near Meadow Creek, which Bianchi said mostly consumed downed aspen trees. 

Robert Tann/Summit Daily News
Smoke is seen from Interstate 70 near Exit 201 on the afternoon of Sunday, July 9.
Robert Tann/Summit Daily News

As Bianchi consults with officials across the High Country about raising wildfire risks in their regions, he said they will consider a slew of factors, including fuel content, ground moisture and a fire’s anticipated strength. 

Some signs point at reasons to remain optimistic about fire danger. Summit County, along with the entire state, is drought-free for the first time in four years, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor. And ground moisture has proved resilient despite the increased heat. 

But those factors provide no guarantee that wildfires will remain at bay. 

Officials are still battling the Devil’s Thumb Fire in Grand County, which sparked Tuesday, July 4, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The fire is 30% contained and remained around 95 acres as of Sunday.

To the west, the Spring Creek Fire near Parachute has burned 3,286 acres, which is more than 5 square miles, and was 39% contained as of Sunday. 

“Just because we don’t have any drought in the state doesn’t mean that we can’t get fires. It’s all about fuel,” Bowen said. “People just need to always be aware of the role they play, especially if you live in these areas that are susceptible, like Summit County.”

Summit Daily News reporter Ryan Spencer contributed to this report. 

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