Not too early to ring fire alarms

The Denver Post - - OPINION -

As Den­verites dusted off their flip-flops and flocked to rooftop bars, the first wild­fires of the 2017 sea­son cropped up, one burn­ing alarm­ingly close to down­town Boul­der.

Two other fires started Wed­nes­day in Jefferson County, and ear­lier this month a 30,000-acre fire on the north­east plains burned homes, killed cat­tle and in­jured a fire­fighter.

De­spite a strong win­ter of pre­cip­i­ta­tion in the moun­tains, the un­sea­son­ably dry March on the Front Range is set­ting much of Colorado up for a dan­ger­ous fire sea­son. We were thrilled to see fore­casts for rain and snow in Den­ver and the foothills be­gin­ning Thurs­day evening, and we hope the mois­ture brings re­lief.

But the National Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Cli­mate Pre­dic­tion Cen­ter is fore­cast­ing warmer-than-av­er­age tem­per­a­tures across much of the United States this spring, in­clud­ing a 50 per­cent to 60 per­cent chance that Colorado’s April, May and June are warmer than nor­mal.

And for now, the U.S. Drought Mon­i­tor has placed much of east­ern Colorado in the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of “ab­nor­mally dry.”

That heat and lack of pre­cip­i­ta­tion should put all of Colorado on height­ened alert.

We haven’t of­fi­cially skipped spring con­di­tions yet, but it looks likely that folks will be hunt­ing Easter eggs in shorts. Where in other years it might have been safe to have an open camp­fire in the foothills this time of year, or to start a char­coal grill with­out a nearby hose, 2017’s spring might be limited to gas camp stoves and an abun­dance of cau­tion.

Let’s ring the alarm bell now, just in case, and then ratchet down con­cern if we do ac­tu­ally see a foot of snow Fri­day and a few re­new­ing April show­ers.

The Colorado Di­vi­sion of Fire Preven­tion and Con­trol will re­lease its an­nual re­port on the fire out­look on April 14, af­ter a com­bined brief­ing with the U.S. For­est Ser­vice, Bureau of Land Man­age­ment and Gov. John Hick­en­looper, said Ca­ley Fisher, spokes­woman with the di­vi­sion.

We hope that out­look gets bet­ter in com­ing weeks, but if it doesn’t, we might find national wild­fire re­sources that had for the past cou­ple of years been fo­cused on Cal­i­for­nia re­turn­ing to Colorado.

Cal­i­for­nia is sit­ting pretty for the first time in years. NOAA’s spring out­look glee­fully de­clared a “re­mark­able turn­around” for Cal­i­for­nia’s five-year drought, fol­low­ing a wet and stormy win­ter, and pro­jec­tions put the coastal state’s weather as likely nor­mal this spring.

And the news isn’t just good in Cal­i­for­nia. Colorado’s Western Slope is free of drought con­di­tions at the mo­ment and the moun­tains are in many places at more than 100 per­cent of nor­mal snow pack lev­els. As snow pack in the moun­tains melts, it fu­els our rivers and reser­voirs, on both sides of the di­vide.

But un­sea­son­ably warm tem­per­a­tures can cause that re­serve of ice and snow to melt too quickly and re­duce wa­ter sup­plies.

We re­mem­ber too well the dev­as­ta­tion of 2012 and 2013 when warm and dry con­di­tions fu­eled record break­ing fires across the state. While some fires are un­pre­ventable, many are caused by care­less hu­man ac­tion.

RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

Fire crews fight a wild­fire from the air in Boul­der’s Sun­shine Canyon this week.

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