With monsoon season over in Colorado, persistent drought could be ‘second fire season’

Cassandra Ballard
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Smoke and haze fills the sky in Glenwood Springs during a very warm afternoon in Garfield County.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

On Thursday, a minor fire popped up on the line between two fire districts in Grand Valley, the Colorado River Fire Rescue District and the Grand Valley Fire Protection District.

It was quickly contained, but it could be a sign of things to come this fall if the Western Slope’s drying trend continues as forecast by the National Weather Service through November.

“As things dry out, those kinds of fires are common,” said Chief Lief Sackett of Colorado River Fire Rescue. “Just knowing how brown and cured out all the grass is this time of year, and how dry and hot it’s been, those are common fires.”

With the extended heat, the region is drying out quickly.

“We’ve had a good year as far as the monsoon season,” Sackett said. “In the last couple of weeks, things have really dried out.” 

The good news is the worst extent of the anticipated heat is finally over, and a little rain should be coming. 

“We were dealing with some record heat earlier in the week, but there’s a pretty strong system moving through the northern tier of the U.S., and that kind of broke down the ridge that was responsible for that heat,” said Kris Sanders, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

There will be a slight warm-up into next week, but nothing as strong as what it was a couple of days ago, he said. Then, the remnants of a tropical storm will move into this area bringing precipitation. 

“It’s gonna bring moisture and lift. We’re probably looking at scattered away widespread precipitation, and with all that being said it will keep temperatures near normal,” Sanders said.  

Earlier this week, the National Weather Service sent out a report for a three-month temperature outlook that predicted it would be 60% warmer than normal temperatures, and a three-month precipitation outlook that predicted there would be 40% less precipitation than normal.

Sanders was not concerned about the prediction of warmer weather, and said that it just means that, when averaging out all the temperatures, there’s a 60% chance that we’ll end up above normal. 

A lack of precipitation seems to be the bigger concern though. 

“For the Grand Junction area, it’s one of the wettest months, September,” Sanders said. “But we aren’t seeing that yet, we haven’t had that.” 

Typically, there are systems that come down the western United States and bring cooler temperatures which bring snow to the mountains and rain to the valleys, he said.

“If we do see these below, normal precipitation (conditions) persist, we could be dealing with sort of a what we call secondary fire season,” Sanders said. 

The Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Aviation Management Unit have not decided to go into a burn ban and Sanders said that the Fire Protective Center does not have the region as above normal activity. 

“There’s still definitely concern as far as the drying trend that we’ve seeing,” Sackett said. “We’re dry across our whole coverage area.”

With the end of camping season and hunting season ramping up, Sackett said it’s important to make sure chains aren’t dragging, fires are not too large and well contained and cigarettes are put out in ashtrays.