Fire chief concerned about dry conditions

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As wildfires continue to scorch other parts of the Colorado, Craig Fire Chief Roy Mason warns that although Northwest Colorado is better off than most of the state, the conditions in the area still cater to blazes.

It's dry now and if the area doesn't get some moisture soon, it could get much worse, he said.

"I've got a feeling we're going to be in a real dry situation before long," Mason said. "This summer has the potential to be a real nasty one."

Charley Martin, ecologist with the Craig Interagency Dispatch Center, said Monday's rain should lower the fire precaution class from "very high" to "high" for only a few days.

By the weekend he predicted it would be back up to "very high."

"It's not enough," he said of Monday's rain. "It's too late to bring around the grass that did not come alive this spring. We just never greened up to where we normally do."

The fact that new grass did not grow this year means that more dead grass will be left over from the winter.

That dead grass can quickly become fuel for a fire.

Mason gave an example of how dry it is in Northwest Colorado.

The fire department recently had a call to a fire where someone had been burning tree stumps, he said.

Four days after the burning was complete, a strong wind came and stirred up particles that were still smoldering, starting several surrounding trees on fire.

Mason said the incident is an indication of how dry it is and warned people in rural areas to be careful when burning trash or anything else on their property.

If people plan to build fires when camping, they should make sure to bring plenty of water and a shovel in order to make sure a fire is properly extinguished, he said.

So far fire bans have been announced at two locations in Moffat County.

Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge banned all fires in the park before Memorial Day Weekend.

On Monday, Dinosaur National Monument Superintendent Chas Cartwright announced a ban on campfires and the use of charcoal briquettes at Echo Park Campground.

The fire ban, which takes effect this Friday, was done for two reasons, according to a statement released by the park.

One reason is because of the dry condition of the vegetation within the monument.

The other reason is Echo Park poses unique fire hazards for campers because of the lack of adequate escape routes and the frequency of high afternoon winds that can whip up a campfire and cause it to jump into nearby vegetation, the statement said. If a campfire were to escape in Echo Park it would quickly present an extreme hazard for campers in that isolated and enclosed canyon environment.

The ban is in effect only in Echo Park not at other campsites at Dinosaur National Monument. But more restrictions could be put in place if conditions stay dry, the statement said.

Campers have been advised to use white gas stoves or propane stoves to cook meals.

If a wildfire were to break out in one of the parks or other part of Northwest Colorado, Mason said local firefighters are prepared, although not the most experienced.

"None of us have ever fought a forest fire before," Mason said. "It would be new territory for us."

Right now Mason said he is educating the crew and cautioning them on what could happen this summer.

"The trucks, gear and everything is ready to go," he said.

Mason urged people who are doing controlled burns within the county to call the sheriff or state patrol ahead of time so the fire department does not get a call and make an unneeded trip.

When that happens it is a waste of the fire department's time and what could soon become precious resources, Mason said.

Although there are no water shortages or restrictions right now, Mason said he was concerned about what that situation might be at the end of the summer.

"A concern of mine is if we begin to run out of water at the end of the summer," he said. "It's going to be tough to take care of a fire with no water."

Another reason for concern is the lack of resources available in the area right now if a large fire were to break.

"All the resources are being used right now to fight fires on the East Slope," he said.

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