Southern Colorado may expect its worst fire season since 2012, the year of the Waldo Canyon Fire, according to fire forecasters in the state.
The string of fires in Fort Carson are an indicator that the southern portion of the state and the Eastern Plains may be in for a difficult spring and summer fire season as drought-like conditions are prevalent throughout the area.
According to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center in Lakewood, snowpack measurements in southern and eastern Colorado are at their lowest since consistent records have been tracked beginning in 1980. That could mean another devastating fire season for residents in the area similar to 2012, which saw the destruction of 350 homes in Colorado Springs in the Waldo Canyon Fire. Similar conditions existed prior to the Royal Gorge Fire in June of 2013, which led to severe structural damage to many of the buildings on the Royal Gorge property near Canon City.
On the southeastern plains its been reported that less than a quarter-inch of rain has fallen in the past five months. Meteorologist Blake Kirkdall believes that the low amounts of moisture and increased presence of high-winds could lead to a difficult fire season for the plains and areas in southern Colorado including Pueblo and other points west.
“We’re seeing an uptick in higher than normal temperatures and higher wind speeds,” Kirkdall said. “Those are usually two key elements to fire danger, along with the well-known drought conditions in the area that have lasted through the winter.”
Kirkdall added that it is important for residents and visitors to the area be very vigilant about fire safety and protecting themselves and their habitat while camping, hiking and taking part in other outdoor recreation activities this year.
“You can never be too careful with fire safety,” he said. “Some things may seem over-restrictive, but those restrictions are put in place for a reason. Not just to keep you safe, but to keep residents, National Parks and employees in those areas safe as well. People just need to be aware of the conditions that we are facing this year and exercise a lot of caution when taking to the trails, mountains and parks this year.”
At the beginning of March two fires broke out near Fort Carson, elevating the cause for alarm. The more recent of the two, the Midway Ranch fire, led to the evacuation of nearly 100 area residents. The National Weather Service in Pueblo took to Twitter during the blaze to showcase how the smoke from the fire was visible from space.
For some residents, the message was clear: this could be a rough fire season, if residents are not prepared.
“After the winter we had, I’m pretty much expecting the worst,” said Pueblo resident, Dayton Moore. “I’ve lived here long enough to know what a bad fire season looks like, and this is shaping up to be one.”
Moore agreed with national forecasters’ projections, basing his beliefs on what he calls “a tepid winter.”
“It’s been too light,” he said. “We just haven’t seen the moisture we need to see. And it’s not just down here either. I have friends in Mesa and Palisade who are saying the same thing. It’s too dry and you know those winds aren’t ever going to quit. Just makes for a tough time for the rest of us.”
To help keep the state ahead of the danger, the RMACC has brought in a large air tanker and helicopter for support in battling wildfires in southern and eastern Colorado. That, however, is only part of the puzzle.
“You just have to be smart,” Moore said. “Like I said, I’ve been here for almost half a century and I’ve seen a lot of fires in that time. Mother Nature does her fair share, but a lot of them are caused by carelessness. If we do what we need to and do it right, we can avoid the next catastrophe.”