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Red flag fire warning for parts of Colorado

Record high temps, SW winds combine for fire weather

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Red flag fire conditions could persist across much of Colorado this week.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A wet spring has delayed the onset of critical wildfire conditions in parts of Colorado, but not everywhere. The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for big parts of Colorado, including the entire southern half of the state, parts of the Western Slope and a strip along the Front Range from Colorado Springs through Fort Collins to the Wyoming border.

According to the warning, the wildfire danger is “very high to extreme” in the Rocky Mountain foothills and South Park, where dry lightning storms could flare up this evening. Continue reading

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Major wildfires burning in California, New Mexico

Year to-date wildfire totals still far below 10-year average

A large smoke plume blows off the Powerhouse Fire in Southern California in this June 1 NASA satellite image.

A large smoke plume blows off the Powerhouse Fire in Southern California in this June 1 NASA MODIS satellite image.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As forecast by experts earlier this spring, California and New Mexico are the hotspots for early season wildfires this year, with a 29,000-acre blaze in Southern California threatening homes near the high desert city of Lancaster, and two fires burning in drought-stricken northern New Mexico.

The Powerhouse Fire in California started May 31 and the cause is under investigation. According to Inciweb.org, about 1,000 structures are threatened and the Lake Hughes community is under an evacuation order. Firefighters did make progress in attacking the fire and reported it as 40 percent contained late Monday afternoon. Continue reading

Wildfires: Budget woes to affect fuels treatments, post-fire rehab

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A wildfire burns in Keystone Gulch, near the base of Keystone Ski Area, in June, 2011.

Fewer firefighers, less wildfire fuels treatments and less post-fire rehab

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The federal budget crunch means firefighters will have to do more with less this summer, federal officials said this week. Because of the sequester, the Forest Service will not fill 500 firefighting positions and will make do with 50 less engines on the ground.

“We are facing another dangerous wildfire season. We are prepared; we’re not as funded as we might be about 5 years from now, so teamwork is really critical to what we have to do,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, speaking Monday at a briefing at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise Idaho.

In particular, parts of the West are facing another challenging fire season, with greatest potential threats in the Pacific Coast states and into the interior northwest, including Idaho and southwest Montana, according to the center’s predictive services team. Continue reading

Wildfires: Repeat of 2012 not likely in Colorado

Wildfire season off to slowest start in past 10 years, but parts of the far West are at high risk for early season activity

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April brought above average precipitation to the northern Rockies, but much of the far West, as well as the Southern Plains, remained very dry, setting the stage for wildfire danger.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The western wildfire season has started slowly, but patchy winter snowfall means some areas will be more at-risk than other, especially California, where parts of the state reported record- or near-record low snowpack for this past winter.

In Colorado, a repeat of the early and deadly Colorado wildfire season is not likely, federal wildfire experts said in their May update, explaining that a wetter and cooler spring will help delay the onset of the season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

But a dry winter in parts of the Colorado San Juans means some of the higher-elevation forests in the southwestern part of the state may be at higher risk of fires this spring and summer, the center’s monthly report said. Continue reading

Wildfire activity surges past 10-year average

Fire risk expected to continue in northern Rockies

Monthly outlook

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Wildfire activity across the U.S. has surged past the 10-year rolling average in the past few weeks, with major fires still burning in the northern Rockies, as well as the potential for big fires in the far West, as California hits the peak of the dry season.

Nationally, wildfires have now burned across about 7.6 million acres, more than last year’s total of 6.9 million acres, when massive fires scorched Texas and part of the Southwest.

This year’s total is the highest since 2006 (7.6 million acres) and nearly 2 million acres more than the 10-year rolling average of 5.9 million acres. Continue reading

Wildfires shutting down gas fields in Wyoming, Utah

52 major wildfires burning on about 900,000 acres across the West

A hillside explodes into flames on the Arapaho Fire in Wyoming. Photo courtesy USFS.

A smoke plume rises from the fast-growing Arapaho Fire in Wyoming. Photo courtesy T. Moxham/USFS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even as firefighters gain control of the large and destructive fires in Colorado, large wildfires continue to burn around the West, including Wyoming, where the Arapaho Fire, on the Medicine Bow National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland, blew up to 75,000 acres Sunday.

The fire, between Casper and Laramie, has destroyed an undetermined number of structures and burned so fiercely Sunday that it created its own weather. Firefighters focused on structure protection in the Harris Park subdivision to try prevent additional damage to residential areas.

Driven by winds and fueled by the same dry conditions that contributed to the recent Colorado infernos, the Arapaho Fire showed extreme behavior Sunday, at times growing at the rate of 1 mph. Firefighters are concerned that it could become a monster fire if it becomes established in the Friend Creek Drainage.

More than 500 firefighters are already trying to contain the fire, with an incoming Type 1 management team slated to take over command. The Arapaho Fire is burning in dense, dry forest, with plenty of beetle-killed timber and down, dead fuels.

Also in Wyoming, the 45,000-acre Fontenelle Fire has been growing about 4,000 acres per day. According to the latest update, large fire growth continues to place substantial strain on helium plant construction (delaying contributions to the nation’s critical helium supply and employment of 300-plus construction workers), as well as oil and gas production.

More on Wyoming wildfires here. Continue reading

U.S. Wildfires well below average for year to-date

A P3 air tanker drops flame retardant on the Las Conchas fire in New Mexico, July 2011. PHOTO COURTESY USFS/KARI GREER.

U.S. Senate fast-tracks bill to help Forest Service lease more large air tankers if the season heats up

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —In what could be one of the worst wildfire seasons in recent memory, the U.S. Senate this week fast-tracked a bill that would authorized the U.S. Forest Service to sign contracts for at least seven large air tankers for emergency wildfire suppression operations.

Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who has been at the forefront of addressing wildfire issues, said he was pleased with bipartisan support for the measure.

“This effort underlines that the federal government can act quickly in emergencies. I hope the House follows suit and gets this legislation to the president’s desk. Western firefighters who are working in the midst of a severe regional drought do not have the luxury of waiting long for the federal government to work.” Continue reading

Colorado: Wildfire danger eases slightly

Summer outlook still calling for above-normal chances for wildfire in western Colorado, south-central Wyoming and parts of Great Basin

Seasonal outlook from the National Interagency Fire Center.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The fire danger in the high country has eased slightly in the past couple weeks, as timely spring rains and the greening up of potential fuels have combined to reduce the potential for rapidly spreading blazes. That doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a fire, but the likelihood of a fire starting and growing quickly is somewhat less than just a few weeks ago, fire experts said.

So far this year, wildfires nationally are well down from last year’s record-setting early season pace and well below the 10-year average for acres burned. For information on current fires go to Inciweb.org.

But those conditions could change again quickly depending on conditions in the next few weeks, said Ross Wilmore, the federal fire management officer for the east zone of the White River National Forest. This year’s early snowmelt is still a key factor in the fire equation, as ground fuels like last year’s grasses and downed trees dried out more quickly than usual. Continue reading

U.S. Wildfire season on near-record pace

An aerial photo shows the Pagami Fire in Minnesota burning among lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe area. PHOTO COURTESY SUPERIOR NATIONAL FOREST. Click on the image to see more from the Pagami Creek Fire.

Large fires burning in Minnesota, Idaho, Montana and Texas

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Several large new fires burning California, Idaho and Minnesota have pushed the total acreage during this year’s wildfire season to 7.7 million acres nationwide, about 1.5 million acres above the 10-year average and close to the record season of 2006, when 8.8 million acres had burned by this time of year.

By comparison, last year’s total at this point in the fire season was 2.7 million acres; in 2009, it was 5.5 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Currently, large fires are burning in eight states: California (3), Idaho (11), Minnesota (1), Montana (8), Oklahoma (3), Oregon (6), Texas (11) and Washington (2). Visit Inciweb for updates on all fires burning currently.

The biggest single fire in the country is burning on the Superior National Forest in Minnesota, where the Pagami Creek Fire has burned across a footprint of about 94,000 acres since it started about a month ago. The fire was started by lightning in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, about 14 miles east of Ely. It’s about 11 percent contained with 565 firefighters on scene.

Parts of the Boundary Waters area remains closed and officials are focusing on protecting structures and developing evacuation procedures on the fire’s southeastern boundary.

California wildfire closes popular Buttermilks climbing area

An aerial view of the smoke from the Moose Mountain Fire in Alaska. PHOTO COURTESY ALASKA FIRE SERVICE.

Nationally, wildfires have burned nearly 3 million acres for the year-to-date, the most in the past 10 years and double the average

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A grass and brush fire in the eastern Sierra Nevada near Bishop has closed a popular bouldering area.

The Buttermilk fire started May 25 and the cause is under investigation. As of May 26, the fire had burned about 250 acres and is 50 percent contained. Campgrounds in the area have been evacuated. Strong and erratic winds pushed the fire quickly through the dry brush, but firefighters don’t expect the fire to grow much larger.

Nationally, wildfires so far this year have burned across almost 3 million acres, double the average acreage for this time of year and the most in the past 10 years. By comparison, the total acreage affected at this date last year was 420,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Continue reading

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