Utah fire brings haze to valley; Aspen helps on Durango blaze
Aspen was impacted by two separate, distant wildfires Monday. The Aspen Fire Department sent an engine and a three-man crew to help firefighters battle a blaze in La Plata County near Durango yesterday morning. At about the same time, smoke from a fire in Utah crept into western Colorado, bringing haze to the skies. Initial reports were that the smoke over town was from the Well fire, which is burning southwest of Durango near Redmesa on Ute tribal land. As of Monday afternoon the fire had burned 1,200 acres and was 20 percent contained. A meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, however, said satellite imagery indicated the smoke in western Colorado was carried by northwesterly winds and was likely due to the Big Canyon fire. That fire is burning 33 miles southeast of Price, Utah, and as of Monday was 3,500 acres in size and 5 percent contained. Both fires were started by lightning earlier this month. Dispatchers in Grand Junction contacted the Aspen Fire Department Monday morning to request a type-6 engine, which specializes in fighting rural, backcountry wildfires, to assist with the fire near Durango, said Fire Chief Darryl Grob.Capt. Chris Hopkins and firefighters Peter Voorhees and Brian Benton volunteered for the trip. “This is a program that we began to regularly participate in about four or five years ago,” Grob said. “The benefit is the experience that our firefighters get – an opportunity to work very large fires in large management schemes. That’s really their opportunity to learn the ropes.” The firefighters and the engine will be available to assist crews on the Well fire for two weeks, the standard time commitment. This year’s fire season on the Western Slope has been relatively tame compared to recent years, but Grob said the region has reached what he referred to as the second wildfire season, when foliage begins drying out before winter. The Aspen Volunteer Fire Department meets with the Pitkin County incident management team every two weeks “to keep each other advised on how it’s developing,” Grob said. “We’re always on high alert. Clearly we’re paying attention and monitoring it.” Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the fire danger in the region has reached a critical stage, meaning the fuels have dried out sufficiently to support rapid fire growth. Conditions are such that if the weather suddenly turns for the worse, a red flag warning may be issued. Ramey said such warnings are sparked by critical fuels and weather combining to create dangerous fire conditions. Strong winds, relative humidity below 15 percent and critical fuels are all prerequisites of a red flag warning. A cold front that is expected to move through the area Thursday night and Friday morning may warrant a red flag warning, Ramey said, due to wind and lightning. The haze over Aspen yesterday did not pose a health hazard, said Lee Cassin, director of Aspen’s Environmental Health Department.”It’s one of those misleading things. The air right now is pretty clean. It just looks hazy,” she said.Steve Benson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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