Regional: Mild fire season offers relief for Colorado
The biggest wildfire in Chris Farinetti’s 6.7 million-acre territory this summer was about 30 acres in early June, and that might be it for the summer.
“I think it’s over with,” Farinetti, head of the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit, said of the fire season. “I’m pretty relaxed about fire right now.”
This season been “very rare,” he said. “Locally, it’s one of the slowest” in his 37-year career.
The entire state has gotten a break, with the largest fire of the summer burning about 20,000 acres north of Craig in July.
After severe fire seasons in 2012 and 2013, whose Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs did the most property damage ever in the state, 2014 has been a welcome respite. The good snowpack combined with summer rains even pushed most of the state, including the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys, out of severe drought, according to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.
“We’re having the wettest August since 1967,” Farinetti noted. “Right now, we’re trying to see if we can even light a fire” for prescribed burns to thin fuel and enhance habitat for wildlife and help regenerate aspens, among other benefits.
The unit plans burns in Garfield and Eagle counties as soon as conditions permit. Farinetti said the “energy release” measurement of fire potential in wildlands is near record lows, around the 30th percentile, after reaching the 100th percentile in 2012.
While California and the Pacific Northwest remain in severe drought and have suffered above-normal fire this summer, Colorado has been lucky. The only smoke of note this summer in the Roaring Fork Valley blew in from Idaho and Oregon fires in June.
Upper-level troughs brought storm systems inland and provided moisture through the summer, said Jim Pringle, a weather service meteorologist in Grand Junction. Normally, high pressure dominates over Colorado in the summer, steering such systems away.
“We’ve had significant recovery from the drought,” Pringle said.
The state had good soil moisture from snowpack, “quite a few showers,” a lack of dry lightning and monsoon rains that “have gone beyond the traditional afternoon mountain showers,” said Todd Richardson, the Bureau of Land Management’s Colorado fire management officer.
“We’ve had some gully-washers coming through regularly in some areas that haven’t seen them for a few years,” Richardson said.
Even better, Pringle said that the weather outlook for the region through November is for above-normal precipitation and normal to below-normal temperatures.
“Let’s hope it doesn’t just stop in October and we have a great ski season,” Farinetti said.
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