Hot temps precede monsoonal moisture for Yampa Valley

Fire activity is expected to increase to start the week, but rain as early as Tuesday could help continue trend of minimal growth

Warm and dry weather to start the week has firefighters expecting an uptick in fire activity on both of Routt County’s fires to start the week.

Milder temperatures and higher humidity kept fire activity low on the Morgan Creek Fire for the past several days. Now at 4,396 acres, most of the fire activity is on the northeast side, though this has been minimal, according to InciWeb.

“We’ve had rain over the fire or near the fire the last couple of days that has helped a lot,” said Melissa Mokry, a spokesperson for the fire. “We’re kind of keeping an eye on the weather through the week.”

Monday is expected to be hot, reaching 90 degrees in Steamboat Springs, with a slight chance for spotty afternoon thunderstorms. Like Sunday, fire activity is expected to be higher simply because conditions more favorable for growth, though a red flag warning isn’t anticipated.

Mark Miller, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said things get cooler as the week progresses.

“(Steamboat) is going to start getting pushes of some monsoonal moisture that will start working its way northward through much of the region,” Miller said. “That will start to materialize starting Tuesday, especially Wednesday and beyond.”

Local meteorologist Mike Weissbluth, in his Sunday narrative, said the change is prompted by energy coming from the Gulf of Alaska, which will push a high-pressure ridge trapping the heat locally to the east, and opening the door for monsoonal moisture.

“Unlike the last couple of days, the showers are more likely to produce brief periods of moderate to heavy rain as the lower atmosphere moistens,” Weissbluth wrote on his forecasting website

While chances look good, Weissbluth said precipitation each day is not a sure thing, as various forecasting models are not totally in agreement. Towards the end of the week, Miller said there would be more cloud cover, which could lead to heavy rain.

“Surely, some good news for the ongoing drought,” Miller said.

Mokry said monsoonal moisture could be good news for the Morgan Creek Fire as well, which hasn’t seen significant growth since July 14. The fire is burning in North Routt County south of Seedhouse Road, and a forest closure has shuttered many of the most popular trails in the area.

Crews have completed indirect fire lines on the south side of the Wapiti Ranch, which contains the structures closest to the fire. Apart from the ranch, Mokry said there are not any structures they are aware of at risk, though they are assessing any potential risks to other properties in the area.

The fire has entered the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, but that doesn’t change how crews approach the blaze. The fire is considered a full-suppression fire, and Mokry said they have firefighters engaging directly and building indirect lines around the fire in addition to areal drops from four helicopters.

There are now 383 firefighters and support staff working on the fire. With containment at 0%, Mokry said there was not an estimated timeline for when the fire would be contained.

Having started nearly a month ago, the Muddy Slide Fire is now 70% contained, with only stretches along the north side of the fire yet unbounded. The cause of the fires has been attributed to a lightning strike June 20, according to InciWeb.

A new team took over control of the fire Sunday morning, and there are about 184 people working on the fire. Size estimates have not grown in over a week and remain at 4,093 acres. Crews on the west, south and east sections of the fire are patrolling to ensure it does not cross over a containment line.

Last week Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order declaring the fire a disaster, which enables state agencies to coordinate response and recovery efforts associated with the fire.

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