Storm clouds move in over Mount Werner on Tuesday night.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Storm clouds move in over Mount Werner on Tuesday night.

Lightning strikes; fire next?

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There are no known wildland fires burning in Routt County after a dazzling display of lightning Tuesday evening, Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said Wednesday.

"We had about 700 strikes across the county that actually made contact with the ground," Vale said. "That's nothing. When it gets up into the 10,000 range, that's when we've got problems. We've had that before."

Vale said much of the lightning that lit up Routt County skies was cloud-to-cloud lightning.

"All the things you saw (Tuesday) night doesn't necessarily mean lighting actually struck the ground," Vale said.

Vale said lightning started some fires in Rio Blanco and Mesa counties. Another was ignited near the border of Eagle and Routt counties and was handled by Eagle County officials Tuesday night. Late Wednesday morning, Vale and Bob Struble, assistant chief of Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue, met in Vale's office to assess the known lightning strikes and the potential for fire.

"It has some potential in the future to cause some fires," Vale said. "We're just sitting here, kind of anxiously awaiting fire."

Vale noted that the worst wildfire in Routt County history, the Hinman Fire, stayed dormant for four days after a lightning strike before blowing up. The blaze burned about 15,000 acres in North Routt County.

Lightning from a strong Monday afternoon storm is the suspected cause of a fire that had at least one tree smoldering Tuesday at the Steamboat Ski Area and other small fires in Northwest Colorado.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kim Vogel said she expects more fires to be discovered in the area in coming days because of the lightning. Vale said lightning will become a larger concern in coming weeks with the arrival of late summer monsoons.

Tuesday's storm also brought needed precipitation to the area. Local weather observer Art Judson recorded 0.34 inches of rain at his measuring station between downtown Steamboat Springs and the base of the ski area. Before Tuesday's storm, July's total precipitation in Steamboat was just 0.22 inches.

The revised July total of 0.56 inches still leaves Steamboat behind the pace for an average July of 1.54 inches of rain.

- Tom Ross contributed to this report.

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210 or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

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