Photo by John F. Russell
Officials say the fire conditions in Routt County are the most severe they’ve seen in years. The conditions have led state officials to enact even tighter fire restrictions.
Daytime highs to hit 93
Northwest Colorado’s extreme fire conditions won’t get any relief during the weekend. The National Weather Service forecasts daytime highs of 93 degrees Friday through Monday for Steamboat Springs, with only a very slight cooldown expected by the middle of next week. Overnight lows will remain in the mid-40s. Gusty winds of 15 to 30 mph also will be present.
As a result, a red flag warning is in effect from noon to 9 p.m. Friday for Routt County. A fire weather watch is in effect Saturday. A red flag warning means critical fire weather conditions are in place, while a fire weather watch means such conditions are expected to occur.
Steamboat Springs Routt County’s top emergency management official says wildfire conditions in Northwest Colorado are more severe this year than they were during summer 2002, when a series of fires scorched thousands of acres of national forest throughout the area. The result is likely to be increased fire restrictions for federal, state and private lands throughout the county.
“I think we are drier and fire conditions are more severe than 2002,” Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said Thursday, just days before officials here are expected to enact stricter fire restrictions.
The new fire restrictions being proposed for federal, state and private lands in Routt County would exceed the restrictions already enacted by Gov. John Hickenlooper last week. The proposed Stage 2 fire restrictions prohibit all open fires that could throw an ember, including campfires, charcoal grills and wood and coal-burning stoves. The ban also would prohibit open fires in designated public areas with fire rings or grates. The only exception to Stage 2 restrictions are liquid or gas-fueled stoves.
Bureau of Land Management officials announced Wednesday morning that Stage 2 fire restrictions will go into effect on BLM land Friday for the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit, which includes Routt, Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Larimer, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Summit counties.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners is expected to enact Stage 2 restrictions on Wednesday. Stage 2 restrictions for the Routt National Forest are expected early next week.
Struble said fire chiefs from Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Oak Creek will meet with their respective city and town officials to also implement Stage 2 fire restrictions in the next week.
“I would say by next Wednesday pretty much all of Northwest Colorado will be at Stage 2,” Struble said.
According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday, more than 26 percent of Colorado and most of Routt County is experiencing extreme drought conditions. Last week about 20 percent of Colorado was experiencing extreme drought.
Struble said that if the extreme drought continues, Stage 3 conditions could be discussed. Those restrictions would be more likely if the area experiences human-caused fires and firefighting resources become scarce.
“That would be where the federal partners would decide to shut the forest down,” Struble said. “In 2002, New Mexico did it. I don’t remember that ever being done on the Routt (National Forest).”
The fire danger in Routt County is rated “very high,” and Struble said the only reason it is not extreme is because of existing moisture at the highest elevations.
“I would say at the valley floor we are at ‘extreme,'” Struble said.
The city of Steamboat Springs announced early this week that it was cancelling its traditional Fourth of July fireworks show because of the extreme fire danger. In keeping with Hickenlooper’s restrictions announced last week, fireworks of any kind have been banned in Steamboat and Oak Creek, with Hayden expected to follow suit.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com