Rain sets course for average wildfire season | PostIndependent.com

Rain sets course for average wildfire season

Ryan Hoffman
rhoffman@citizentelegram.com

Garfield County is on track for an "average" wildfire season after some much-needed precipitation — however, the recent rain does not mean fire officials are easing off mitigation efforts.

"Right now with the lack of fuel, and the moisture and weather info, we're sitting right in the middle of an average year," said Doug Paul, fire mitigation and education specialist with the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit. Conditions could always change, he added.

The current position might have been hard to believe earlier this year, when dry winter months had many believing that fire season could start a month earlier than usual. And with warmer temperatures in March leading to significant melting of the snowpack, the soil was especially dry, said Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District.

Above-average rainfall in late April and early May helped, though, reducing the amount of fuel in the area, effectively putting things back on course for a typical year, Paul said Tuesday. An average year in Paul's jurisdiction, which spans from the Utah border to the Eisenhower Tunnel and includes six Colorado counties, is about 200 wildfires on federal lands, he said. Without the springtime rain, the region could have faced a much more severe wildfire season.

"We're in a lot better place," Pokrandt said. "If April and May were dry, the wildfire folks would be on high alert."

The region received some more good news with the National Weather Service's recent three-month outlook predicting above average precipitation for June and July.

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While the news is certainly welcome, it does not mean people should be lax when it comes to fire safety, said Ronald Biggers, deputy fire marshal with the Glenwood Springs Fire Department. If anything, he added, this is the right time for residents to be focused on fire mitigation, such as clearing debris around their homes.

At the agency level, the Glenwood department is awaiting approval of a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that would aid in fire mitigation in Canyon Creek. "It's a year-round effort," Biggers said of the department's fire mitigation tactics.

With California and much of the West continuing to experience severe droughts, fire mitigation here at home becomes increasingly important because federal and state resources are allocated to the areas that need them the most, Paul said. Even with the wet predictions, Paul expects wildfire season in the region to start in mid June.