The National Weather Service offered a glimmer of hope to drought-stricken Southwest Colorado on Monday, forecasting a 50 percent chance of showers on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
In Montezuma County, the showers would likely fall as rain, with some snow early Wednesday morning, according to the weather service. Overnight Tuesday, low temperatures were expected to drop to the mid-30s, followed by a high in the low 50s on Wednesday.
The forecast came as the San Juan National Forest and Bureau of Land Management prepared to launch fire restrictions Tuesday, and as a small wildfire in Shiprock sent smoke into Montezuma County. Meanwhile, a new fire raged Monday in north-central Arizona.
Residents from Towaoc to the Dolores River Valley on Sunday night flooded 911 dispatchers with calls about smoky skies, prompting the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office to send an emergency message via the Nixle alert system explaining that the smoke originated from Shiprock. The alert at 7:59 p.m. also asked callers to use the 911 system only if they had a “specific emergency.”
According to The Farmington Daily Times, firefighters from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo Region Wildland Fire Management and the McKinley County Fire Department were mopping up the scene of the Shiprock fire on Monday. The fire started Sunday afternoon, but was beaten down by an air tanker, brush trucks and crews. The cause of the fire remained under investigation, the newspaper said.
On Tuesday, the U.S. National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management start fire restrictions in light of the heightened wildfire danger.
Camela Hooley, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service’s San Juan National Forest, announced the pending Stage 1 fire restrictions on Friday.
As part of the Stage 1 fire restrictions, the following are prohibited on Forest Service lands:
Fires, campfire and stove fires; including charcoal grills, hibachis and coal/wood burning stoves. Exceptions include campfires in Forest Service-provided, manufactured fire grates within Forest Service campgrounds and picnic areas; and petroleum field stoves or lanterns that use gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel.Stage 1 restrictions also will be in effect on BLM land within the Tres Rios Field Office, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and portions of the Gunnison Field Office surrounding Silverton. The area with restrictions includes BLM lands in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose, San Juan and San Miguel counties. BLM fire restrictions are the same as the national forest.The drought and the heightened wildfire threat is rooted in a dry spell that began in October and reaches from southern California to central Kansas.
Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor listed the Four Corners in an “exceptional drought” – the most critical drought category.
In the Cortez area, weather service forecaster Matt Aleksa said only 1.6 inches of precipitation has fallen since Jan. 1. That’s 2.4 inches less than the 4 inches the county normally receives by this time of year. Last year, the area accumulated 4.07 inches of precipitation by mid-April.
Meanwhile, about 500 firefighters and seven crews of elite hotshots on Monday were fighting the Tinder Fire in north-central Arizona near the community of Clints Well. The fire quickly spread to more than 12 square miles after igniting about 11 a.m. Friday.
The Coconino County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency, and residents of 10 small nearby communities were ordered to evacuate late Sunday.
The fire started in the Blue Ridge area southwest of Arizona State Highway 87, the county board said. The cause of the fire was undetermined, and the fire was zero percent contained.