Fire danger looms high

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— Close attention is being paid to escalating wildfire danger in Northwest Colorado, with warm, dry weather fueling the likelihood of fire restrictions in the coming weeks.

In the five-county area encompassing Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand counties, interagency discussions have begun, addressing exactly how high the fire danger is and what, if any, restrictions should be put in place, said Chuck Vale, Routt County's director of emergency management.

Fire danger is considered high in Routt County on all indices, including weather, the moisture content of live fuel and the number of dead trees in the area, Vale said. High temperatures are expected to hover around the mid-80s for the next week, according to the National Weather Service.

"We're thinking it's very dry, and we're thinking future restrictions are a possibility," Vale said.

Although controlled agricultural burns are mostly done for the season, future burn restrictions could impact recreational uses, events and outdoor cooking.

Restrictions, however, are not yet warranted because Northwest Colorado is not experiencing many fires caused by humans, and area resources are not tapped out, Vale said.

Roughly 90 percent of wildland fires in Routt County are caused by lightning, Vale said. Routt County had two wildland fires earlier this month - one near Clark and one near Toponas - caused by lightning. Both took place during the Fourth of July holiday.

Ultimately, fire restrictions can impact only the small minority of fires caused by people, Vale said.

One such small fire broke out about 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon in the Elk River Mountain Ranch subdivision off Routt County Road 44, where sparks from a bottle rocket lit a yard ablaze.

Residents contained the fire before Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue arrived, though firefighters remained on scene to extinguish any hot spots, Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said.

"It's probably very fortunate we've had as little lightning as we've had," Struble said. "As hot as it is, with all the wind, all the moisture is just being sucked out of all the fuels."

When it comes time for fire restrictions in Routt County, a number of different agencies are at play. The Routt County Board of Commissioners have authority over private and state lands, while the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management oversee their respective lands, Vale said.

- To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203

or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com

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