In a normal year, a foot of snow in late October would mean the end of fire season. But with Western Colorado experiencing its driest summer on record, this year is anything but normal. As a result, the last remaining vestiges of the Grizzly Creek Fire are still smoldering.
“It’s been so dry for so long,” said David Boyd, a spokesman for the White River National Forest, “the meteorologists that are working fires say this snow that came through is not a season-ending event, it’s a season-slowing event.”
Boyd says the Grizzly Creek Fire received about a foot of snow last weekend, but will need heavier and more consistent precipitation to be fully extinguished.
“It does defy common sense, if you get a foot of snow that should put this thing out," he said. “But the fuels are so dry and there’s not as much moisture in the snow as you would think. As it melts and we start to get dry winds, warmer days and sun hitting those areas, enough of it hangs on underneath that snow that it gets going again.”
The fire is 91% contained. A small gap in that perimeter remains in rocky terrain near the top of the Grizzly Creek Drainage. Just last week, before the snow, about 150 acres of land near that area saw new burning.
“It’s very normal on these large fires like Grizzly Creek to have smoldering until winter comes,” Boyd said. “Because it’s in that rugged terrain where we couldn’t effectively get a containment line in or safely put firefighters in there, when it did kick up last week it burned some additional acres.”
Boyd says that patch of new burning was quelled by the snow.
About 60 miles to the west, the Pine Gulch Fire has been marked as 100% contained since late September. That fire, which burned north of Grand Junction, was once the state’s largest, but it has been surpassed by two near Rocky Mountain National Park.
Total containment means the smoldering could continue within a perimeter established by firefighters, but is not expected to spread to new areas.
The White River National Forest lifts fire restrictions on Friday, but Boyd says there is still some fire danger and encourages people to be “extremely careful.” The forecast calls for more sun and warm temperatures in the coming days. Even after the snow, large portions of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield Counties remain in a state of “exceptional drought,” the highest category in the United States Drought Monitor.