Tinderbox: Moffat County crews prep for more wildfire calls as area dries out
Wildfire season is here, and Moffat County is starting to burn again.
After a wet spring and summer brought perfect conditions for campfires and fireworks on July 4, a lull in the rains has dried the area’s thick brush into the perfect wildfire fuel.
According to the Craig Interagency Dispatch Center, there were 15 fire-related calls for service in May.
Things were quiet, but not for long.
By the end of June, crews had responded to 55 fire-related calls for service. July was even more busy with 107 calls by the end of the month.
“Things are getting warmer and drying out,” said Craig Fire/Rescue Battalion Chief Troy Hampton.
Hampton’s crews have responded to dozens of fires this past month — many of them wildfires and grassfires in or near Craig.
“In July, we had 51 calls,” Hampton said.
While some fires may have been caused by other means, Hampton said many were caused by fireworks.
“The fireworks,” Hampton said. “We’ve had severe fireworks incidents.”
At least one of those incidents likely involved 27-year-old Erick S. Talavera-Valles, who was arrested Tuesday on a felony charge of tampering with physical evidence and misdemeanor charges of fourth degree arson and false reporting to authorities.
“We got a call about a fire down at Loudy and ultimately there were two additional fires linked to fireworks,” said Moffat County Sheriff Lieutenant Chip McIntyre of the Talavera-Valles case, which was filed late Thursday. “This gentleman was contacted after some witnesses ID’d him. He was ultimately charged.”
But many fires in the last three months were caused by Mother Nature, especially wildland fires on public land.
“Lighting is probably the vast majority of our fire causes, probably 90% of our fires,” said BLM’s Colt Mortenson, Northwest Colorado’s federal fire management officer. “That’s how it is here in Northwest Colorado.”
Mortenson said this year’s fire season started late, “like night and day” compared to 2018’s fire season where at least 17,000 acres had already burned by this time last year compared to this year’s big fire so far, which was about 200 acres in Rio Blanco County.
“We kind of got beat up last year,” Mortenson said. “This year is totally different. The fires, we’re catching them.”
Part of the reason fires haven’t been as destructive this year are vigilant residents who call at the slightest sign of smoke, as well as responsible outdoorsmen and campers who properly extinguish campfires and dispose of lit cigarettes.
“As we progress through the summer, it’s drying out and they need to be cautious in all their activities,” McIntyre said.
Mortenson said his federal crews will be ready no matter what the rest of this year’s fire season may bring, as August is usually the busiest time for his firefighters.
“We try and plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Mortenson said.
Still, Mortenson hopes things don’t get busy like 2018.
“Our firefighters aren’t nearly as busy this year and we’re kind of happy for that,” he said.
A Craig mother charged with criminally negligent homicide after her son perished in a house fire on Christmas Eve is set to appear before a Moffat County judge next week.