No more ‘second’ fire season

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily
A Sept. 7 fire up Eby Creek, north of Eagle, was contained at fewer than 2 acres, but the speed of the fire prompted immediate evacuation orders.

Eric Lovgren is as busy as he’s ever been, which is how he likes it.

Lovgren is the Eagle County wildfire coordinator. Since he took the job, he’s been working to make residents aware of wildfire dangers and how to protect homes and property from fire’s potentially devastating consequences.

In the aftermath of the Grizzly Creek Fire in and around Glenwood Canyon, Lovgren has been “swamped” with calls and emails, primarily from people in the Eagle and Gypsum areas where residents could see flames from the Grizzly Creek Fire as it grew toward the Coffee Pot Road.

Calls from the Roaring Fork Valley side of the county have remained steady. Those residents also had “front row” seats to the Grizzly Creek Fire, along with the still-fresh memories of the 2018 Lake Christine Fire near Basalt.

While the heat of July and August has ebbed, vegetation remains tinder-dry in many areas, meaning there’s still a chance of wildfire.

No more ‘second’ season

Early fall used to be known as “second” fire season. But as Western Colorado remains in the grip of several years of drought, there’s no real gap between seasons. At this point, the fire danger will probably ease when there’s a decent amount of snow cover.

Paul Cada, the Vail Fire Department’s wildland specialist, said while the fire danger remains, the possibility of a human-caused fire also remains, and could increase, as outdoor recreation continues and hunters come to the High Country.

“This time of year we start getting some pretty cool nights,” Cada said. Those out in the forests need to be sure they’re following fire restrictions, he added.

Eagle County recently went from Stage 2 to Stage 1 fire restrictions. But those restrictions still allow outdoor fires only in specific areas, including fire grates in established campgrounds. A ring of rocks outside of a campground doesn’t count. Propane firepits and other devices that can be switched off can still be used.

Are you ready to get out?

Cada said he’s also been hearing from residents about being prepared for wildfire.

“We continue to reiterate that people should always be ready,” Cada said. He added that people can’t count on pre-evacuation notices.

A Sept. 7 fire up Eby Creek north of Eagle was quickly controlled, but the fire prompted immediate evacuation notices.

Generally, if you see smoke you should be ready to leave, Cada said.

“We’ve been busy talking to folks,” Cada said. “We encourage people to plan (to evacuate).”

Lovgren said this particularly dry summer has caused even those who have worked to “fire-harden” their homes and property — keeping brush trimmed, moving firewood away from homes and other tactics — to rethink their strategies.

Lovgren lives in Eby Creek Mesa, north of and above the town of Eagle. Lovgren said he’s recently hired a tree service to remove the juniper trees on his property.

What was once nice, drought-resistant ground cover might need to be replaced with more rocks. Junipers could be replaced with aspen. Planting perennial and annual flowers also can make a home more fire-resistant.

Lovgren said residents should consider planting “beautiful flowers” instead of juniper and sage, which he called “gasoline on a stick.”

Those longer-term tactics may be needed, since the regional drought — now lasting about 20 years — shows no sign of abating.

The warm dry weather of the summer doesn’t show any signs of easing for at least several weeks. There could be some good news on the horizon, though.

Matthew Aleksa, a forecaster in the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said a La Nina pattern is starting to develop in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Those patterns, with cooler-than-average water temperatures, often bring winter storm patterns through the northwestern U.S. that tends to benefit Eagle County.

Still, just one winter will only help, not solve, the problem.

“We need two or three years of heavy snowfall to make up for these drought years,” said Tracy LeClair, the Eagle River Fire Protection District community risk manager and public information officer.

“We just seem to get drier and drier,” she added. “One good winter is not enough to make up for that.”