Sylvan fire

A firefighter tries to put out flames at the base of tree in the Sylvan fire.

Rain showers and increased humidity helped firefighters in their battle to contain several blazes burning on the state's Western Slope.

Firefighters reached 27% containment on the Sylvan fire, 30% containment on the Oil Springs and 14% containment on the Muddy Slide fire as of Tuesday morning, according to InciWeb, an interagency management system.

"Just a few days they were 0% contained," said Larry Helmrick, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center. "We’re making great progress while there's moisture and high humidity."

Unseasonable cool temperatures, high relative humidity and scattered rain and thunderstorms helped soak some of the fires and slow their spread, which gave firefighters an advantage to increase containment around the flames.

"We’re just waiting to see how much precipitation we get," Tracy LeClaire, a spokeswoman for the team in charge of the Sylvan fire, said. "The rain isn’t going to put the fire out, but it’s certainly helping and we haven't seen any fire growth over the last several days."

But LeClaire said the rain also hindered firefighters at times, making it difficult for crews to access some of the more rugged terrain.

Rain and thunderstorms are expected to continue this week during the afternoons and evenings with cooler than average temperatures and calm winds, Norv Larson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said.

Crews will try to make as much progress as possible during the cool, wet spell before a drying period starts over the weekend, LeClaire said.

Rain is crucial to provide firefighters and the land with relief on the Western Slope where most of the region faces extreme and exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. But more important than spurts of rain is frequent moisture.

"Because all of the wet weather, our fine fuels are really high and green," Helmrick said. "But a few days of heat could dry them out."

If fine fuels such as grasses dry out, they become the perfect tinder for wildfires to devour.

"If they cure — and they always do — they could spark when lightning strikes," Helmrick said.

But the majority of fires are human-caused, with nearly 88% of the fires between 2016 and 2020 started by people, data from the Congressional Research Service shows.

"I would caution homeowners living in the wildland-urban interface," Helmrick said. "This would be a good time to reevaluate and keep properties as defensible as possible from wildfire."

The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center elevated its preparedness level to three of five. Helmrick said it is early in the year to be at level three. The agency did not enter level three until Aug. 7 last year.

"We’re definitely in fire season," Helmrick said.

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