Fire danger simmers down after wet spring; summer threat ‘anyone’s guess’ |

Fire danger simmers down after wet spring; summer threat ‘anyone’s guess’

Chad Abraham

Things are heating up in the valley, and fire officials are watching the skies and hillsides.A few small incidents lately – such as lightning hitting a tree, a tiny fire near Emma and a power line sparking after falling on a tree in the Crystal River Valley – have kept firefighters on their toes.A soggy spring helped quash the fire danger, but a few rainless weeks are all it takes for conditions to rapidly deteriorate, said Ron Leach, Carbondale fire chief.”So far, it’s been very favorable from the wildfire perspective,” he said. “What happens the rest of the summer is anyone’s guess. It’s all about the summer rain.”Leach said the long-range outlook for western Colorado is for a season of below-normal fire danger. But if a month or more of dry weather persists, it “starts to become a serious problem,” he said.The fire danger in Carbondale and other downvalley communities is a gauge for Aspen’s fire department. “Usually we’re a couple of weeks behind what happens [downvalley] as far as dryness,” said Orrin Moon, Aspen’s deputy fire chief. “So we usually have a heads-up when they start having things happen to start watching up here.”While the wet spring helped lower the immediate fire danger, it actually could turn the tables on firefighters later in the summer, Moon said.”It also allowed some of the quick fuels, the light fuels, to grow farther and so we’ve got more grassy fuels on the ground,” he said. “If all the sudden it quits raining and dries up, then we’re going to have a little more fuels than normal.”Permits for controlled burns, which are allowed in the fall and spring, are no longer being issued, he said, as temperatures continue to increase.And another potentially troubling sign has already emerged on local hillsides.”The grasses on the south-facing slopes are already dry,” Moon said. “The potential’s always out there.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is