Rare ‘extremely critical’ fire warning issued for northwest Colorado

    BRIEF

    An air tanker battles the Grizzly Creek Fire near Glenwood Springs on Aug. 13 (Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team/BLM)

    A fire weather outlook published by the National Weather Service this week highlights an area of “extremely critical” fire danger for portions of northeast Utah and northwest Colorado, as drought conditions on the Western Slope continued to worsen.

    The NWS alert marks the first “extremely critical” designation for the region since 2006, the agency’s Storm Prediction Center said on Twitter on Wednesday. The area under the most severe designation includes western parts of Garfield, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

    “Clear skies across the region are allowing for strong surface heating and deep vertical mixing, resulting in (relative humidity) values already dropping to 10% and sustained south-southwesterly surface winds of 15-20 mph (gusts around 30 mph) across much of the region this morning,” an updated advisory from the Storm Prediction Center on Thursday said.

    Separately on Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly update showed drought conditions on the Western Slope worsening, even as much of the state east of the Continental Divide is drought-free for the first time in over a year. Nearly 18% of the state remains under the Drought Monitor’s most severe classification, “exceptional” drought — much of it concentrated in the northwestern quarter of the state.

    Colorado experienced its worst wildfire season on record in 2020, experiencing the three largest blazes in state history between July and October. Mike Morgan, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, said in April that the state is forecasting fire conditions that are “very similar at this time of year (to what) we were last year,” especially in drought-stricken western Colorado.