Updated: September 14, 2010 at 12:00 am
The Colorado Springs Fire Department bumped the city’s fire restrictions up to Stage II at noon on Tuesday.
Dry conditions and worries brought on by the recent Fourmile fire in Boulder prompted the change.(Click here for an update on the Loveland fire)
Stage II means all outdoor burning and recreational fires have been “shut down” except for cooking fires, according to Christina Randall, the department’s wildfire mitigation section manager.
Because because of the chance for grass fires, the city will be in Stage II for at least the next seven days, she said.
The biggest concern is low moisture levels in dead materials such as grasses, pine needles and other debris on the ground.
“Those are critically low,” Randall said, putting the moisture levels in the 4 percent to 9 percent range. “Those are similar to the Fourmile fire area.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Mozley said these levels are due to a lower-than-average precipitation for September.
So far this month, the Colorado Springs area has received about 0.01 inch of rain. The pace would have to quicken drastically to reach the usual average for September of 0.74 inch.
The weather service attributes these conditions to a system called a “Rex Block” in the northern Pacific Ocean that is blocking moisture from entering the Rocky Mountain region. This is caused by a strong high pressure system alongside a strong low pressure system and is expected to last at least another week, according to the weather service website.
The forecast calls for partly or mostly sunny conditions and makes no mention of any chance of rain in the coming days. This should keep fire danger where it’s been for much of September, in the “high” to “very high” range.
The highest danger lies west of I-25 where there are more than 35,000 homes lay in the Wildland-Urban Interface area. The trees and terrain with narrow canyons make this area a tinderbox for fires and also limit access to fight fires.
“We can’t get crews in there easily,” department spokesman Mike Smaldino said.
Smaldino said west Colorado Springs mirrors the Fourmile fire area the most. At least 166 homes were destroyed in that blaze, which was 100 percent contained Monday night.
According to Mozley, moisture is not the only factor that can lead to a blaze. Wind plays a huge role, he sad.
Recently, winds haven’t been strong enough for concerns. In Colorado Springs, they’ve been holding steady at about 10 to 15 mph and that is expected to continue. Wind gusts of more than 25 miles per hour combined with humidity less than 15 percent would put fire crews on alert, he said.
“Those conditions have to remain for at least three hours for it to be considered critical fire weather,” he said.