20 brush fires swept throughout Mesa County on Saturday and Sunday, March 18 and 19. This coincides with burning permits being available for the spring season.
The amount of fires so early in the season is uncharacteristic. "We have had a lot of brush fires this year. The Grand Junction Fire Department is on track to actually have responded to 3 times as many brush fires as we did in March last year," says Dirk Clingman, the Community Outreach Specialist for the Grand Junction Fire Department.
Chris Joyner, the Public Affairs Specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, says in past years fire season would usually be a month or two away from now. "We don't see a lot of wildfires this time of year. All the fires we've responded to thus far this year have been human-caused, we haven't had any lightning or other event that could cause fire. So those are preventable," says Joyner.
Conditions in Colorado appear to create the perfect storm for such out of control fires. "Fires are definitely very responsive to the recent weather... and we've been sitting about 20 degrees above the normal this time of year. So, we are significantly above normal temperatures," says Julie Malingowski, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. The dry climate and windy conditions in the Grand Valley are also contributing factors that can cause a burn to become uncontrollable. "People aren't typically thinking about wildfire in March. We're normally still dealing with much colder temperatures, much more precipitation, but we had a dry span here and its been extremely uncharacteristically warm," says Joyner.
The burning permits come with many regulations. These include only burning vegetative waste and tree trimmings less than 1 inch in diameter, having a method of extinguishment equal to the size of the fire, starting the burn early in the day, and being at least 50 feet away from any structures, property lines, or flammable materials. "Most of the fires are a result of humans, so if you are burning with a burn permit, there are a lot of things you can do to burn safely," says Clingman. To find out all of the regulations, you can call or visit the Grand Junction Fire Department.
The Fire Department also hopes residents take into consideration the weather conditions surrounding a burn, and to plan ahead for any potential reactions from the fire. "We ask that you be very aware of weather conditions. A lot of our fires going on are a result of high winds and dry conditions, taking normally perfectly legal burn fires and making them spin out of control," says Clingman.
Those living within the Grand Junction city limits can pick up a burn permit from the Grand Junction Fire Department. For those living in Mesa County, the burn permits are available at the Mesa County Health Department.