Monsoon rain prompts end to fire restrictions (for now) in Aspen area |

Monsoon rain prompts end to fire restrictions (for now) in Aspen area

Fire officials feel better but remain concerned about weather in late summer

Wildflowers pop open from a morning of continual rain in the Hunter Creek Valley in Aspen on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

With solid recent rainfall, all fire restrictions in Pitkin County will end Friday morning, officials said Tuesday.

Stage 1 fire restrictions also will end in the White River National Forest and some surrounding counties, said Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine and Pitkin County Emergency Manager Valerie MacDonald.

“The data doesn’t support us being in fire restrictions,” MacDonald said, “mainly because of the moisture surge we’ve had lately.”

Still, with fire seasons extending into October in recent years, officials warned the public to remain on guard about wildfire danger.

“Although we are coming out of fire restrictions, I’m asking all Pitkin County residents and visitors to remember that fire season is far from over,” Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said in a Tuesday news release. “Everyone should remain vigilant, adhere to fire safety rules and report all smoke and fire to 911 immediately.”

Fire restrictions will end at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Monsoonal moisture will probably continue for at least the next week, with thunderstorms gradually becoming more likely as the week progresses, said Michael Charnick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. Tuesday represented a bit of a lull in thunderstorm activity, but monsoon precipitation and humidity remain in the forecast, he said.

“For Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the afternoons and evenings look particularly wet,” Charnick said. “On Saturday and Sunday, there also should be pretty damp days in the afternoon and evening with monsoon storms.”

Indeed, a National Weather Service meteorologist who participated in a weekly call about fire restrictions said this summer’s monsoonal flow has been the best in five years, MacDonald said. However, the forecaster also pointed out the likelihood of hotter temperatures and drier conditions in the next couple months, she said.

“It’s only July,” MacDonald said. “Fire season is not over. We will continue to evaluate conditions weekly and if we get hot and dry again, we will go back to fire restrictions.”

Forecast maps from the Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center indicate monsoon moisture should stick around for another two to three weeks. But after that, the predictions for about a month out indicate a drying trend where the probability of moisture drops to below average or average.

The CPC also maintains a La Nina Watch for the 2021-22 winter that could include lower than normal precipitation.

“The National Weather Service forecast calls for a drying trend in mid-August,” DiSalvo said in Tuesday’s news release. “We will continue to monitor the (level of moisture in area vegetation) and weather data weekly and make adjustments as warranted.”

Balentine said the Aspen Fire Department supported DiSalvo’s dropping fire restrictions for the time being.

“All indices line up that we should be coming out of fire restrictions,” he said. “But we’re not out of the woods yet.”

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