The fire danger sign outside the Bureau of Land Management Snake River Field Office in Craig displayed a danger level of "very high" Thursday.

Photo by Nate Waggenspack

The fire danger sign outside the Bureau of Land Management Snake River Field Office in Craig displayed a danger level of "very high" Thursday.

Fire danger up to very high in Moffat County

Sheriff's office safety

Residents planning on doing a prescribed burn on their property are encouraged year-round to make their county sheriff's office aware of their plans. Contact the Craig Regional Communication Center 24 hours a day at 970-824-6501 with the location, date, time and expected length of the burn to help the sheriff's office be proactive about responding to fires.

Fires raging in cities and state parks across Colorado are a somber reminder of the danger the state faces in the summertime.

In Moffat County, large wildfires have been avoided so far, but the fire danger level for the county recently jumped to very high as a result of the warm temperatures, low humidity and strong winds.

On Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management Snake River Field Office issued a news release with a red flag warning for Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, meaning they were both experiencing high-risk weather for fires, and residents were encouraged to use extreme caution if they would be burning anything.

This is the time of year when fire danger typically begins to ramp up for Moffat County, said Lynn Barclay, public information officer for Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit.

“We see the increased temperature, vegetation is starting to cure, lose its moisture, and the high winds just suck the moisture out of everything,” Barclay said. “We’ve had all of that recently. Those conditions then start changing our fire danger rating.”

Wildfires are a reality that can’t be avoided for Moffat County as the weather dries out in the summer months — with lightning strikes as a common cause for a fire ignition. The goal for officials here is to avoid any fires spreading due to an accident or negligence.

“The largest fire we had last year that came the closest to threatening homes and structures was man-made,” said Craig Fire/Rescue Chief Bill Johnston. “Someone carelessly threw a cigarette, and it ignited and put some people’s homes in danger.”

Johnston was referring to the Sand Fire in Moffat County, which burned 2,000 acres after igniting in late June last year. The chief hopes residents will understand that while fire danger was not as high in recent weeks, it is still a major concern this summer, similar to 2012.

“The predictions are that this year’s fire potential are similar to last year’s,” he said. “It’s hard enough for firefighters to deal with lightning caused fires without having to deal with human-caused fires, as well.”

The best way to avoid causing wildfires is to remain vigilant whenever lighting a fire, Barclay said. Being aware of the weather conditions and warnings, and making sure fires have gone cold before leaving them unattended are all key aspects to good fire safety.

“We live in a fire-prone ecosystem here,” Barclay said. “We know that in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, we’ll always see some wild land fires even if we’re careful. But right behind lightning (as a cause) are unattended campfires and ditch burning. I think people must think it’s safe, it’s in a safe place, but you can’t ever leave a fire unattended.”

Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or nwaggenspack@craigdailypress.com

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