Fire officials cite decreasing temps, increasing precipitation
By Kristy Acuff
The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, Gunnison National Forest (GMUG) lifted all fire restrictions on forest service lands Thursday, July 26. Restrictions have been in place for nearly eight weeks since May 29. Gunnison County also lifted restrictions for county public lands on Friday, July 27. The towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte lifted their restrictions as well. The decision to lift the restrictions comes as multiple small wildfires have been active in the region.
In a separate resolution, July 31, the County Commissioners placed stage-2 restrictions on county land west of the top of Kebler Pass and north of the top of Schofield Pass. According to the County, this includes the townsites of Crystal, Somerset, Paonia Reservoir, Marble and the valley of the North Fork of the Gunnison River, areas that have received less precipitation than the eastern side of Kebler Pass. White River National Forest remains in stage-2 restrictions as well.
According to Kimberlee Phillips, GMUG’s public affairs officer, compliance with the restrictions went very well earlier this summer, with the public adhering to the rules while the area was under Stage 1 and Stage 2 fire restrictions. And while this year’s prolonged drought dried out the forest fuel early this spring, temperatures have been decreasing recently, leading to the decision to lift the restrictions.
“We are seeing an overall decrease in daily temperature which is providing better nighttime recovery for relative humidity and fuel moisture content,” says Phillips. “Our high elevation areas have begun to receive seasonal precipitation, which is signifying the beginning of ‘monsoon season.’ While we have not seen significant precipitation across the Western Slope, the localized rain storms we have experienced have gone a long way in helping the fuel moisture content in areas of concern,” explained Phillips.
Thanks to public compliance with the restrictions, Phillips reports that there have been no human-caused fires in the GMUG this season. “While we have had a few minor incidents, the overwhelming majority of visitors and area residents have done an amazing job in being our partner in prevention,” she says.
The lifting of the restrictions comes just after a fire started July 23 on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the Gunnison Gorge National Recreation Area. Currently, 61 firefighters are constructing control lines around the 692-acre “Buttermilk Fire” that was caused by lightning. According to Paul Gray, spokesman for the BLM office in Montrose, firefighters are not actively fighting the fire because it is in a rugged, non-populated area and is a slowly growing fire, increasing only 20 acres in two days, according to Gray. Smoke from the fire continues to contribute to the haze over the Gunnison Valley.
In addition, two fires in Taylor Canyon, also caused by lightning burned earlier this week. The first fire burned 8.8 acres near mile marker 6.5 before being contained. The second fire is burning roughly a ¼ acre near mile marker 11.5 in a remote location. As of press time, Six Forest Service firefighters had rafted across the Taylor River and hiked one hour to reach the small blaze. Without water, the firefighters were actively cutting in lines around it and cutting up the dead and downed timber as well as stirring up soil to extinguish it, according to Jim Ramirez, assistant fire management officer for the Gunnison National Forest.
Fire managers remind everyone to continue to be attentive of their actions and surroundings, especially in areas with dry vegetation or dead trees, by practicing smart wildfire prevention behavior including: never leaving a campfire unattended; using established campfire rings; picking safe and proper campfire sites; and ensuring that their fires are completely out and cool to the touch by using the drown, stir and feel methods.