Not too early to ring fire alarms
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.
Fire crews fight a wildfire from the air in Boulder’s Sunshine Canyon this week.