The National Weather Service has issued a “fire weather watch” for Southwest Colorado as the combination of dry weather and increased chances of lightning enter the region this week.
The fire weather watch will be in effect Thursday afternoon until the evening. Storms are expected in the area, bringing high, gusty winds and lightning, but no precipitation.
Erin Walter, a meteorologist for the NWS, said the warm and dry weather that has persisted the past few weeks has dried out fuels on the forest floor, increasing fire danger.
The precipitation anticipated with incoming storms is expected to evaporate before hitting the ground, Walter said.
The high wind poses its own set of dangers: campfires or other fire sources could quickly get out of control, she said. On top of that, afternoon thunderstorms could add another layer of wildfire danger.
“New fires may become problematic with such dry fuels right now,” she said. “We want people to be extra aware and not start fires where they shouldn’t be.”
Fire districts in La Plata County suspended burn permits “until further notice,” said Hal Doughty, chief of Durango Fire Protection District.
“We’re asking people to hold off on controlled burns until we get some precipitation,” he said.
Fire districts don’t have the authority to suspend agricultural burning – a move only the governor of Colorado can do – but local chiefs are asking ag operations to wait on burning until the fire danger subsides.
Doughty said that despite the dry weather and increased danger of wildfire, fire districts have not implemented fire restrictions. If rainstorms don’t materialize next week, fire restrictions could be put in place.
“We believe we’re going to get that moisture and be out of the fire danger,” he said. “But if we don’t get that precipitation and it continues to get drier, that would obviously be a change of plan.”
Walter said Labor Day weekend is expected to be hot, sunny and dry.
Calls to the U.S. Forest Service were not returned Wednesday afternoon.