High winds, low humidity and dry vegetation prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning until 8 p.m. Tuesday – the third day a warning has been issued this year for the Durango area.
On red flag days, Durango Fire Protection District suspends burn permits and requests the agricultural community to postpone burning or do it in the morning when winds are typically more calm, said fire Marshal Karola Hanks.
The fire department can only request agriculturalists avoid burning, she said. That is because springtime burning is critical to their economic success later in the year. Laws have been designed to protect them from government entities that may be overly restrictive when it comes to open burning, Hanks said.
Everyone else must have a permit to burn debris or do wildfire mitigation, she said. Those permits are canceled on red flag days. City residents are always prohibited from open burning.
“We have some very community conscious agricultural members who go through the (permitting) process even though they have that exemption,” Hanks said.
A couple of open burns have gotten out of control this year, Hanks said. Fortunately, firefighters stopped the flames before they spread too far, she said.
In addition to fanning the flames, high winds dry out vegetation, making conditions more combustible.
“There’s some green stuff coming up in the ground, but then there’s some dead stuff from last year,” Hanks said. “It burns quite easily.”
Red flag warnings are issued when three factors are at play: relative air humidity is 15 percent or less, sustained winds are 25 mph or more and fuel moisture is determined to be “critically” dry, said Matthew Aleksa, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
The first red flag warning of the year was issued March 22 for the Durango area, a bit early, he said.
“We don’t typically see that getting started until May,” he said. “That area has been particularly dry for the latter half of the winter, and warmer.”
Dry conditions are expected to persist until late Friday, when a southwesterly storm with significant moisture is expected to arrive, Aleksa said. After that, Southwest Colorado will enter an unsettled period, in which sporadic storms are expected to bring more moisture, he said.
“Hopefully that helps,” Aleksa said. “It does look like it’s going too be much more moisture than we’ve had in some time.”