Dry conditions up chance of wildfire
The slopes above Glenwood Springs may be green, but don’t let that fool you. Despite recent rain, fire conditions are as severe now as they were on June 8, 2002, when the Coal Seam Fire devastated more than 12,000 acres in and around Glenwood Springs.The message from area fire officials: Be prepared. “The Coal Seam burn is green and dry again,” said Glenwood Fire Chief Mike Piper. The driest area of town, he said, is probably northern Glenwood, which receives the most sun. “This same green was here four years ago but was extremely dry,” he said. “All those conditions [are] almost identical to four years ago.”Ross Wilmore, fire management officer for public land east of Glenwood, said grasses pose a significant fire threat, and the scar that the Coal Seam Fire on Glenwood’s hillsides still has the potential to burn.But, “that fire scar there is not going to burn with the same kind of intensity as the Coal Seam because the gambel oak is a lot younger,” he said. As gambel oak leaves fall, they accumulate, dry out and curl, becoming fluffy and flammable. But a large quantity is needed for it to burn intensely, he said. “Glenwood is in a lot better shape than it was before 1994 [the year of the Storm King Fire],” he said. “There’s places around Glenwood Springs, of course, we’re still concerned about. The piñon-juniper is pretty dry. Conditions are beginning to line up for a large fire someplace.”Indeed, the entire city is at risk for wildfire this year, Piper said. The wind-driven fires pose a threat even to those who have cleared a “defensible space” between their homes and nearby dry trees, Piper said. A wind-driven wildfire is no match for human preparation, he said. The potential for such fires here should encourage Glenwood residents to think about what they’d do if they had to evacuate, he said, including making sure pets, important documents and other essentials can be gathered quickly if a fire breaks out. Mayor Bruce Christensen said he believes Glenwood residents are acutely aware of the danger wildfires pose to the city, and he encouraged them to prepare by removing brush from around their homes and being careful with fire. Though he said he’s confident in local firefighting agencies’ ability to jump into action, he questioned the readiness of federal agencies. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service “resources have somewhat dwindled,” he said. “I am concerned the federal level may not be there.”Locally, federal firefighting agencies are fully staffed, said White River National Forest spokeswoman Kristi Ponozzo. “We will bring on extra crews if we need to,” she said. Statewide, federal firefighting resources are much different than they were in 2002, when the Forest Service faced the devastation of the Hayman [Front Range] and Missionary Ridge [Durango area] fires, which together burned hundreds of thousands of acres. “As far as comparing 2002 to 2006, it’s a different picture because of how we’re managing resources,” said Larry Helmerick, fire information officer for the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Coordination Center. “I’m comfortable. If we have a megafire like Hayman or Missionary Ridge, we’ll call in [resources] from across the nation. We’re as ready as we can be.”
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