From flood to flames: Western Colorado under Red Flag warning; wildfire danger highest in far west and Southwest
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — It doesn’t take long to go from floods to fire in Colorado. Even with mountain streams still running high with runoff, weather experts say the fire danger is on the rise as June turns warm and windy. About a third of the state (mostly western Colorado) is under a Red Flag warning going into the weekend, with the National Weather Service warning that warm temps, low humidity and gusty winds will combine to raise the risk of wildfires.
Overall, the fire season outlook for Colorado is not as critical as the past few years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, which is emphasizing the current fire danger in the far west and the Southwest, including big parts of Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.
Here’s the Rocky Mountain Region outlook from the NIFC:
Significant wildland fire potential is expected to be normal for the Rocky Mountain Area June through September. In July north-central Colorado is expected to see below normal significant fire potential.
This year’s early spring pattern was not as wet across the area as the last. However, an active May kept conditions cooler and wetter for all but portions of southern Colorado, Kansas, and eastern Nebraska. Early June predictions continue the active pattern, favoring average to above average precipitation and mild temperatures. In the longer range, precipitation and temperature forecasts point toward near to above average precipitation through the summer, and average to below average temperatures overall across the area.
Long term drought continues across much of the southern and eastern portions of the area. Precipitation deficits over the last 30 days have been significant across the southwestern Kansas, and to a lesser extent, southern Colorado and southeastern Nebraska. Snowpack remains well above average in most major drainages this year, with the exception of southwestern Colorado where values are below average.
An overall wetter and cooler than average trend is anticipated to continue into early June with a predicted active weather pattern. Additionally, with long range outlooks still favoring at least average rainfall and temperatures near to below average, below average fire potential is likely across northern Wyoming as well as over the mountains of northern Colorado and south-central Wyoming. Heavy fuel loading may develop and pose fire problems during the fall months as a result of the vigorous spring green-up in the lower elevations and grasslands across northern portions of the area.
Colorado hopes to stay ahead of the wildfire threat this year by attacking fires at a very early stage to keep them from exploding into megafires. To help, Gov. Hickenlooper this week ordered $2 million to be transferred into a mobilization fund that helps pay for rapid response.
“There is general consensus among all wildfire experts that the single most effective strategy in containing wildfires is an immediate and rapid response, as this greatly increases the chances that responders will contain fires while they are small,” the Executive Order says. “Thus, the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control has identified a primary goal of ‘keeping fires small.’ Collaboration between jurisdictions often provides the most effective, if not only way, to respond adequately to wildfires as soon as they are discovered.”
“The threat and danger fires pose even in a ‘normal’ fire season is staggering, and it is likely the frequency and scope of wildfires will continue to increase due to changing weather patterns, more severe storms, drought, beetle kill, and increased development.