Bone-dry weather conditions that have lingered in the Mid-Valley since August show no signs of abating until at least mid-October, which means locals need to be ever more vigilant when it comes keeping fire at bay, according to a spokesman for the Roaring Fork Fire Rescue authority.
“We know we’ve had no measurable precipitation in the last 60 days,” said Pete Bradshaw, RFFR’s deputy chief of administration. “And all this grass that grew this summer is ripe for ignition.”
Bradshaw spoke Tuesday, having just returned from a structure fire on Upper Cattle Creek Road in Carbondale that started earlier that morning and was fully involved by the time crews arrived around 5 a.m. About 30 responders, including personnel from Carbondale and Aspen, helped on scene, but the Missouri Heights home was considered a total loss. Still, the crews were able to tamp down the fire – whose cause remains under investigation – and prevent it from spreading and becoming a wildland fire.
“We had some concern about the dry grass around it. When the upper story collapsed, it sent a great spray of ember showers. That pushed all the heat and smoke and particulates of burning material in the air,” Bradshaw said.
Tuesday’s fire came on the heels of a small brush fire near Willits that flared up Saturday afternoon near the bus stop by Whole Foods. It was quickly extinguished, with the cause unknown.
The granddaddy of local fires right now is the Granite Lake Fire, located about 13 miles southeast of Meredith and situated in a remote area of the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. It was believed to be lightning-caused and first detected on Sept. 21.
Measured at 113 acres as of Saturday, the Granite Lake Fire grew to 695 acres by Monday. On Oct. 2 and despite high winds in the area, it remained at 695 acres, according to the InciWeb incident information system. The fire has resulted in the temporary area closure of Forest Road #504 at the junction of 505/504.1E and Trail #1940 from the South Fork Trailhead to the top of South Fork Pass.
According to Lynn Lockwood, a spokeswoman for the Upper Colorado River Fire and Aviation Management Unit, the fire continues to be monitored and scouted on the ground and in the air and managed by a Type 3 incident commander. Jim Genung, who worked with the Lake Christine Fire, is the incident commander for the Granite Lake Fire.
A “confine and contain strategy” is being employed in part due to its inaccessibility, the area’s topography and out of concern for firefighter safety. In a statement from the agency it was noted that, “The Granite Lake fire will likely burn and smolder until a season-ending event occurs.
“Firefighters will remain assigned to the fire, patrolling the fire area from the ground and air. Variances in weather, topography and available fuels will affect the fire’s behavior; at times it may be more active and produce increased smoke,” according to the statement.
Lockwood also said that “although the fire is not threatening any structures at this time, it is burning in the direction of the water diversion infrastructure.”
James Bishop, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the infrastructure (including Ruedi dam and the spillway) confirmed that the BLM is keeping a close eye on the fire, though it’s not now seen as an imminent threat.
The reservoir and dam are located below the fire, but in the vicinity of the Granite Lake conflagration are canals, tunnels and gates comprising a collection system that’s routed to the Boustead Tunnel which conveys water for diversion to the Western Slope and Front Range.
While the Granite Lake Fire is being controlled and evaluated by a federal agency, local resources will be made available if needed, according to Roaring Fork Fire Rescue’s Bradshaw.
“We stand by ready to help,” he said.
Bradshaw added, “We’re not out of the woods with wildfire,” in noting that forecasters are predicting more hot and dry weather and “red flag warnings” for the next two weeks.
“We don’t see any relief in sight,” he said.