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Red Flag fire warning across much of Colorado

Dangerous fire weather in Western Colorado this weekend.

Fire restrictions in place across much of the region

By Bob Berwyn

Update: The High Park Fire west of Fort Collins is growing fast and several hundred homes have been evacuated.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Some of Colorado’s most destructive wildfires have burned during the month of June and early July, including the Hayman Fire and the Coal Seam fires in 2002. Across many parts of the high country and West Slope, June is the driest month of the year, halfway between the snows of winter and the quenching monsoon rains of late summer.

Windy, dry and hot conditions sometimes persist for several days during the month, and this year is no exception. In fact, with the extremely early snowmelt and a string of months with well-above average temperatures, the stage is set for the possibility of dangerous and rapidly growing fires.

This weekend, visitors and residents to western Colorado need to be especially careful, with a Red Flag fire warning in effect across much of the region. Fire officials say it’s critical that everyone heed the fire restrictions posted for much of western Colorado yesterday.

Southwest winds blowing counter-clockwise around an approaching Pacific weather system will increase, especially over the mountains. Low relative humidity and above-average temperatures, along with dried-out ladder fuels like last summer’s tall grasses and shrubs are the other ingredients for fire weather.

The only thing missing is ignition, and that with no lightning in the forecast, the most likely source is from a careless camper who leaves a fire unattended, a spark from a power tool, a carelessly tossed cigarette or even just some dry roadside grass coming in contact with the hot exhaust pipe of a car or motorbike.

The horrific 1994 South Canyon Fire blew up in conditions similar to this weekend’s, as a dry cold front swept across Colorado, shifting wind direction and fanning the flames of what had previously been just a smoldering blaze.

Specifically, winds will build throughout the day, from 15 to 25 mph gusts to start with, strengthening to as high as 35 mph in the afternoon as the front approaches.

The Red Flag warning is in effect through 9 p.m.

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