Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. On Monday, Labor Day, the Nederland Fire Protection District received a report of an abandoned campfire near the horse trail in the West Magnolia area. A hiker called it in, saying the fire was smoldering and no one was around.
It was hot on Monday before the rain came, with a stiff breeze. The grasses have dried and the pine needle litter is crunchy. The campfire was built in the middle of a meadow, away from trees but surrounded by fuel. An ember blown out of the fire circle could have skittered into the grass, ignited the feathery stalks and been huffed into flames.
That is close to what happened five years ago in Fourmile, when a fire pit containing remnant of smoldering charcoal escaped into the trees where they became torches blown by the wind, up the canyon, destroying 165 houses and scorching 6,200 of forest and wild land meadows.
About half of those residents are still trying to rebuild their homes and their lives.
At least three major wildfires in the area occurred in September or October including the Left Hand Fire and the Overland Fire. The green grasses of summer that were so abundant with moisture can dry out in a matter of days, creating dangerous fire risk conditions.
Nederland Fire Protection District chief Rick Dirr says the grasses have cured and the high winds make us vulnerable to wether front passages. “We need to incorporate situational awareness about potential ignition.”
A car that has overheated and pulled onto a grassy shoulder is an ignition source. With no fire ban in place all summer, visitors have enjoyed their marshmallows and cheery glow from contained flames. But they have also become careless. At one point United States Forest Service firefighters put out seven abandoned and hazardous campfires in one week.
There comes a time when these fires are no longer just an annoyance, but became a threat.
Nederland and other fire districts use an Energy Release Component to determine the fire danger rating. The ERC gives seasonal trends calculated from 2 p.m. temperature, humidity, and precipitation duration.
They learn to watch out for windy conniptions and wind shifts at fire danger levels. They expect increased fire behavior in insect decimated timber stands and spot fires will occur with strong winds and dry conditions.
The Overland Fire in 2003 happened with 75 degree temperature and wind at 12 mph.
In April, May and June the fire danger in Gilpin County was in the moderate range and by August and moving into October it is in and will be in the extreme category based on 15 years of data.
Chief Dirr says it is time to cut down the three feet tall stalks of dry grass that last month were lush waves of green. And rake up the hay that is left behind. Be aware of what is around your property. Imagine a burning cinder landing in the middle of it.
We dodged the bullet so far this year. It will take all of us being vigilant and careful to not have a September or October fire event.
On Monday, the Ned firefighters shoveled dirt onto the abandoned campfire and dug out the hot spots. The USFS fire crew arrived for backup, just in case. The fire districts are on the alert, knowing that each day of dry weather adds to the dangerous conditions.
The NFPD says, “Let’s get out game on and be ready.”