Red flag warning raised

Early season fire signs could be harbinger of things to come

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— Routt County was put under a "red flag" fire warning Monday - a full month before the official start of summer and an ominous sign for what is shaping up to be a dry, long wildfire season.

The red flag warning was issued by the National Weather Service's Grand Junction forecast office. Steady winds and low humidity prompted the warning as a cold front pushed its way into Northwest Colorado, meteorologist Chris Cuoco said.

Other Colorado counties also placed under the warning were Mesa, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Pitkin and Eagle.

Periods of showers coupled with an active lightning storm moved through the region Monday, further elevating the concern for wildfires.

A red flag warning is brought on by the existence of "critical fire weather conditions" creating "explosive fire growth potential."

The warning does not trigger any campfire restrictions, which is good news for those heading outdoors for Memorial Day Weekend.

"It should be a great weekend," Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said. "We're dry, but this time of year we have to our advantage the green growth."

Agricultural burns are discouraged during the warning, Vale said.

He also said the red flag warning allows fire officials to be prepared and to tweak their tactics should they be dispatched to a fire that could grow quickly under such conditions.

"It's just another tool in the toolbox," Vale said.

There are some signs, including Monday's early-season red flag warning, that the wildfire season - which typically runs from late June to September - could arrive earlier and last longer, Vale said.

The fire danger in Routt County still is considered "low" based on the condition of vegetative fuels, but the fire danger likely will be raised to "moderate" in the coming days, Vale said.

No fires were reported as of early Monday evening, and the red flag warning expired at 7 p.m.

Cuoco said he did not expect another warning to be issued during the remainder of the week or during the Memorial Day weekend.

"The temperatures will definitely cool down for the rest of the week," said Cuoco, adding that it would also become more humid. "We're not looking at red flag conditions."

Temperatures are forecasted to be in the mid-50s with a chance of thunderstorms through midweek. The temperatures will then increase into the upper 60s and lower 70s heading into the holiday weekend.

- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210

or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com

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