May 7, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Claire Barber | Photo by Aida Hasson
Let’s talk wildfires… again.
The National Interagency Fire Center released their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook on May 1.
The report conglomerates fire outlooks for the U.S. – even Hawaii and Alaska – for four months at a time. This month’s report takes a gander at the forecasts for May through August.
Overall, the report doesn’t shy away from the reality of what climate change has wrought, especially in the West.
According to the report, “Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah had their driest April – March period in 126 years with California and Colorado having their third and fourth driest April – March period, respectively.”
Correspondingly, snowpack is below average across the region. Drier than usual conditions are expected to continue in the Plains and West through the summer and exacerbate drought, while the Southwest Monsoon is anticipated to return as normal in July (which will likely help alleviate fire conditions). In the Rocky Mountain region, conditions are expected to return to normal after the Monsoon in August.
Risk, understandably, seems to stretch into the mountainous West of Colorado as the season progresses.
“By late May through June, the above normal risk area is predicted to expand from southeast Colorado and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains through a large portion of western Colorado. Above normal fire potential is anticipated to diminish in southern Colorado as it expands northward by late June through July into northwest Colorado and southwest Wyoming,” the report says.
In the midst of the record breaking fires of 2020 and this season’s risks, Gov. Jared Polis recently signed a proclamation declaring this May Wildfire Awareness Month. According to the Colorado State Forest Service, nine out of 10 fires last year in Colorado were preventable.
Half of Coloradans live in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), where city and suburban life meet vulnerable territory for fire (think Manitou Springs, which was hit hard by the Waldo Canyon wildfire in 2012).
According to a survey conducted by the Colorado Springs Fire Department, wildfires are viewed as the single most serious threat to the community by the majority of Colorado Springs residents, compared to other issues related to Colorado Springs Fire Department services such as severe weather and structure fires.
The majority of the city’s population is rightfully worried, since parts of Colorado Springs are precariously situated at “extreme risk” for wildfire: that is, what is considered WUI territory.*
As of now, fire danger in Colorado Springs is low with no burn ban or restriction in place. It’s an early season waiting game, fraught with an ominous uncertainty. Has drought created a tinder box? Will the forecasts prevail?
*To clarify WUI it is pronounced “wooo weee.”