State climatologists, fire officials warn about potential fire danger along Colorado urban corridor

Dry conditions combined with growth present issues
Marshall Fire destruction
Posted at 4:57 PM, Mar 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-28 19:45:09-04

GOLDEN, Colo. — The long-term forecast for the summer fire season is still unknown, but we know from this weekend's NCAR Fire and other fires throughout the state that short-term conditions are dangerous.

While there are certainly many upsides to 75 degree days in March, the downside is fire danger.

This past weekend South Metro Fire was tripled its grass fire response in terms of apparatus and personnel.

“Because we just know, historically, these conditions can lead to a rapidly spreading wildland fire,” said Eric Hurst, public information officer for South Metro Fire.

This weekend’s fire hit too close to home, yet again.

“The NCAR fire was very triggering for a lot of people who just experienced the Marshall Fire,” said Becky Bolinger, assistant state climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University.

Bolinger says, unfortunately, this is likely a sign of things to come.

“Just because we’ve had recent precipitation, there is not a complete recovery of that prolonged drought,” Bolinger said. “So there are still a lot of dry fuels out there.”

Hurst says over the past 20 years, areas west of Denver International Airport along the urban corridor have been 37% drier, a change around the turn of the century.

“We did come out of the 1980’s and 1990’s as being relatively wet time periods,” Bolinger said.

“The weather doesn’t look at the calendar,” Hurst said. “So, for the rest of us where it may feel like this is spring and we shouldn’t have fire danger, unfortunately - that’s just how it is along the Colorado front range. We have to look at this as a year-round fire season.”

Experts say the grassland urban interface, or GUI, is nearly as susceptible to fire as those living in the wildland urban interface or WUI. In other words, forested areas of Colorado.

“And grass fires spread extremely quickly,” Hurst said. “In general, what we worry about with neighborhoods is what we call ember cast. And that’s when you see lots of sparks just flying through the air, and they’re looking for a place to land.”

Hurst and other experts suggest a few simple mitigation tips within five feet of your home.

That includes swapping out mulch for rocks, gravel or pavers. Moving patio furniture, firewood and playsets away from your home and relocating trash cans and other combustibles.

“We don’t want people to be fearful of living here, we just have to know that we’re living with fire in our environment,” Hurst said.

Bolinger says current weather patterns aren’t favorable to the fire forecast.

“A lot of the recent fires have really opened our eyes,” she said. “It’s essentially 365 days a year. Unfortunately, it’s something that we’re going to continue to experience.”