Wet winter, spring may bode well for mild summer wildfire season on Western Slope
With an above-average snowpack following a snowy winter, local firefighters and wildlife experts are expecting a mild fire season this year, especially at higher elevations.
The combination of a cool and wet spring, and average to wetter and cooler predictions through the summer, is tilting the odds toward average to below-average large fire risks across the Rocky Mountain region.
Tyko Isaacson, with the U.S. Forest Service’s Upper Colorado Fire and Aviation Management Unit, said the vegetation moisture content and other statistics indicate it is unlikely that the Western Slope will be facing an above-average fire season.
He added, however, that the lower elevations are more susceptible to the risk of a rapidly spreading wildfire, as the cheatgrass and fire fuels will begin curing at the lower levels, leaving extremely flammable vegetation.
David Boyd, spokesperson with BLM, explained that just because it’s shaping up to be a mild season doesn’t mean they won’t be putting out fires this summer.
“In an average year, we’re still fighting hundreds of fires,” Boyd said. “We will still have fires, and people still need to be very careful.
“Just look at the sides of the highway, [there’s] tons of grass ready to burn,” Boyd added.
Below-average large fire potential is forecasted for July through August across the Rocky Mountain region, according to the Upper Colorado seasonal outlooks.
The above-average snowpack also bodes well for a mild wildfire season, especially at the higher elevations where it takes longer for the snow to melt away.
Cool and wet spring temperatures kept the snowpack in the mountains well above average, with values ranging from 120 percent of median to in excess of 300 percent in some places.
And, historically in Colorado, for years that had above median snowpack on June 1, most had well below-average acres burned for June through August.
The Climate Prediction Center also shows a wetter than average June through September, according to consensus long-range weather forecasts.
However, the number of large fires has typically increased in June and July in Colorado.
In addition to the recent and forecasted wet/cool spring and summer, the heavy snowpack in the central and southern Colorado mountains has delayed the onset of core fire season, which typically sees an increase in fire activity by late May, according to the seasonal outlook.
Below-average large fire risk is predicted for the entire geographic area in June, with below-average risk becoming constrained to the mountains of Colorado during July and August.
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