TELLURIDE – For the second year in a row, there will be no fireworks in the Telluride Town Park on July 4.
The Telluride Town Council voted on Tuesday to cancel the display, due to unfavorable weather conditions. Council went further, and instituted a blanket policy banning all fireworks displays for July 4, both public and private.
Telluride Fire Protection District Chief Scott Bennett was asked by council to discuss ongoing operations to construct the annual fireworks display and to identify safety and fire concerns. Bennett agreed that conditions in the valley were exceptionally dry, but added he could decrease the size and amount of fireworks he used, thus reducing and managing the risk of igniting a fire.
Citing the abnormally dry conditions, Councilor Thom Carnevale said, “I understand it’s a 5 to 10 percent risk, but it’s still a risk.”
Having considered the lack of water and firefighting capacity, Carnevale was one of the first members of council to offer a “no” vote to the proposed fireworks display. Each member spoke to a similar point, eventually voting, with apparent reluctance, for a blanket policy banning all public and private fireworks displays.
With hot, dry and extremely windy conditions blanketing the region over the past week, firefighters struggling to contain several wildfires throughout Southwest Colorado have had little help from the weather. A change in the weather pattern is expected to ease the conditions over the next week.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Matthew Aleksa, who works out of the agency’s Grand Junction office, said an area of low pressure over the Pacific Northwest and a ridge of high pressure over the Great Plains has created a strong southwest flow over most of Southwestern Colorado for more than a week.
“This strong southwest flow has made it fairly windy and dry, leading to the fire conditions that we have seen recently,” Aleksa said on Tuesday. “Currently we are in a transition period where a ridge of high pressure is building over the Four Corners region. Once that builds, it will remain over the area and then shift to the Great Basin by the weekend. It will still be dry and hot but less windy.”
Aleksa said June is typically one of the driest months of the year and that apart from slightly above average temperatures, the recent weather pattern has been fairly typical. This change in weather, particularly the high pressure ridge moving into the Great Basin, could soon lead to the summer’s monsoonal pattern and the moisture associated with it.
“As far as a really good signature for a monsoon, it’s hard to say at this point,” Aleksa said, when asked if the monsoonal moisture is in the forecast. “Typically it starts right at the beginning of July. Right now, our models don’t go out that far. We will start to get a better picture next week. I do think we are showing some hints of moisture working its way up into Colorado.”
Until then, Aleksa said fire crews fighting the numerous fires in Southwestern Colorado will have to do so in slightly above-average temperatures and less wind.
Firefighters are continuing efforts to contain the East Fork Fire near Silver Jack Reservoir. They are up against remote, steep terrain and windy conditions, which is making containment a challenge.
On Sunday a firefighter suffered a "rock to the chest," according to U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Anne Janik.
Janik said the firefighter was thought to have the "wind knocked out of him" while working in the steep terrain; she said fellow firefighters are grateful the large rock didn't hit the firefighter in the head. As a precaution a helicopter was dispatched and transported the firefighter to Montrose Memorial Hospital where he was treated and released that same day.
The fire threatens about 35 structures, one of those is a cabin owned by Montrose resident Lars Erickson and his family for the past eight years.
Erickson has been making daily trips to the cabin retrieving anything of family value from the cabin and working to protect the cabin by re-routing spring water to flood the area around the structure.
Erickson estimated the fire to be about four miles from his family's cabin and said he has nothing but the highest respect for the firefighters working the blaze.
"They have been freaking awesome," Erickson said.
Erickson has been supplying pictures to The Watch during his repeated trips to the cabin. His pictures detail snow still packed high on the rock faces of the peaks near the fire. He said the area still has lots of moisture from winter and is amazed the fire has gained so much in terms of acreage.
"You can turn over a rock and see lots of moisture in the ground," Erickson said.
As for other Fourth of July fireworks displays around the region, Telluride is the only public display that’s been officially cancelled so far. Silverton, Ouray and Montrose still have displays scheduled with possible cancellation subject to weather conditions closer to the holiday.
– Additional Reporting by William Woody and Gus Jarvis