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Forest Managers: Federal Resources For Firefighting Stable

Rick Cables.jpg
Photo by Kirk Siegler
USFS Rocky Mountain Regional Forester speaks to reporters at a wildfire forecast briefing in Lakewood.

Forest managers say they’re confident they will have the money they need to fight large and costly wildfires like the one burning in the foothills west of Denver and a new fire that sparked Thursday in Douglas County.

That call by officials in Colorado comes despite the ongoing budget battle in Washington and agencies like the US Forest Service continuing to operate on temporary budgets. 

"I will say that I don’t anticipate a significant reduction in our firefighting capability," said Regional Forester Rick Cables, of the USFS's Rocky Mountain Region.  "I think that our folks in Washington realize that this is really an important thing."

Federal resources that would normally be idle this early in the season are mobilizing to Colorado where conditions are extremely dry and several wildfires are keeping crews busy.  Rick Cables heads the Rocky Mountain Region of the US Forest Service.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has declared Jefferson County a disaster area, freeing up $1.5 million in state funds to battle the Indian Gulch Fire. 

Forecasters examining longer-term climate models say there's little reprieve in sight from the severe drought that's gripping much of eastern Colorado.  While the mountain basins remain above average, much of that snow is locked up above 8,000 feet, says meteorologist Tim Matthewson of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

Matthewson says the northeastern corners of the state are at roughly 55% of average, and some parts of southeastern Colorado are at only 5% of average precipitation.  

Fuels are tinder dry, including grasses that would normally be matted down from snow.

"Right now, most of the grasses that we’ve seen along the Front Range and eastern plains are standing straight up," Matthewson says.   "They’re more readily available to burn when they’re standing straight up, versus compacted grasses." 

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.