County sees wet spring, but autumn fires still possible

Spring this year was in top 10% for precipitation

Elliott Wenzler
ewenzler@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/12/21

While Douglas County and the rest of the Front Range has fared better than expected during the first few months of wildfire season, experts are still asking residents to be ready for those …

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County sees wet spring, but autumn fires still possible

Spring this year was in top 10% for precipitation

Posted

While Douglas County and the rest of the Front Range has fared better than expected during the first few months of wildfire season, experts are still asking residents to be ready for those circumstances to change.

“The threat has diminished slightly,” said Tim Johnson, director of Douglas County's emergency management office. “However, we know we're right around the corner from another potential wildfire season.”

In March, the county's emergency management office said it was preparing for a likely dry and hot summer. The county had been experiencing months of the worst possible drought conditions and forecasts weren't predicting improvement.

However, the county — along with the rest of the Front Range — has since seen above-average precipitation. In Douglas County, this spring was in the top 10% for precipitation, according to the WestWide Drought Tracker.

“That's what I would call a drought buster,” said Becky Bolinger, the state's assistant climatologist. “That was really the spring moisture not only providing the spring moisture (we needed) but also knocking away those deficits that were longer term.”

Beginning in June, the county has not been in any level of drought for the first time since May 2020, according to a U.S Drought Monitor report.

“We were looking at a dire prediction a few months ago for how things were going to turn out here on the Front Range,” Johnson said. “But things have been better, better than expected.”

Historically, the area has seen one fire season lasting from the start of spring through early July, then comes a monsoon season until the fall. Beginning in September, a second dry and hot season — often bringing wildfires — arrives, he said.

So far in the first part of the season, there have only been a few small fires in the county that were immediately contained, said Mike Alexander, the county's fire management officer. No fire restrictions were needed for the Fourth of July.

Now, Alexander and his team are looking to the future as the second fire season of the year draws near.

With how much rain the area saw early in the season, there is more lush vegetation. That means potentially more fuel for a fire.

“We're doing everything all year to be prepared for that possibility,” Alexander said. “And should it occur, we do everything we can to respond in the best way we can.”

If the area does begin to dry out in the fall, residents will want to be ready, Johnson said. 

“We could remain moist and get snow and have no fire season at all,” Johnson said. “But we prepare based on what we've seen in the past.”

That's why the emergency management office hopes the community will use this calm, less hazardous period to take steps to prepare.

“There's never a bad time for mitigation,” Alexander said. “This is a great time before smoke is in the air.”

Johnson notes that mitigation, preparation and situational awareness are all good steps to take.

“Always in the back of your mind, be aware that these things can change and it can change fairly quickly,” he said.

Bolinger also emphasized the importance of keeping an eye on the local dryness conditions.

“Things can change quickly so it's always good to be aware of what's happening,” she said. ”It doesn't take a whole lot of hot, dry days without precipitation for things to start getting stressed.”

Tale of two states

While the eastern half of the state may be in good shape so far, the Western Slope is a different story, Johnson said. 

“We have a tale of two states,” Johnson said. “If you look at it, the western half is under exceptional drought and probably will be for the rest of summer and it's ready to burn at any time.”

That region, like much of the Western United States, is still experiencing extreme to exceptional drought conditions. 

“Just because there's not drought where you are doesn't mean there's not drought in other parts of the state,” Bolinger said.

As long as things in Douglas County remain stable, firefighters from the county stand ready to help out in other parts of the state if needed.

“We all kind of help each other out,” Alexander said. “That is occurring and will continue as conditions allow.”

More information about the county's wildfire preparation, including recommendations for preparing a home for wildfires, is available at douglas.co.us/wildfire-mitigation.

Data and summaries on Colorado's climate are available on the state climate center website at climate.colostate.edu.

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