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Environment

Colorado Wildfire Outlook Not Bad, As Long As April Brings Showers

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U.S. Forest Service
The High Park Wildfire located approximately 15 miles west of Fort Collins, CO has consumed over 65, 738 acres of forest and grassland with approximately 189 homes destroyed.

The Rocky Mountain region fire outlook [.pdf] is not as bad as that of 2012 – at least not yet. For those with short memories, that was the year of the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires, some of the largest and most destructive in Colorado history. Last year, 2014, was relatively calm, following a large snowpack and a cool, wet early summer.

"Right now we're kind of sitting in between those years, a 2012 and a 2014," said Tim Mathewson, a fire meteorologist with the federal Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, based outside Denver. "We're definitely not as wet as we were last year at this time, but we're not quite as dry as we were in 2012, our snowpack is a little bit better."

It also has not been as windy or as dry as 2012 so far, said Mathewson. The dryness and warmth of March – "overall March was pretty much a bust around here in terms of precipitation" – could still be counteracted to some degree with April and May storms.

"If the weather pattern changes to wet then we'd be looking more at average fire season conditions with some fire activity this summer. And if it stays dry then we could easily move into the 2012 levels," said Mathewson.

Of course, the various factors that Mathewson looks at, like snowpack, temperatures, winds, and the likelihood of more moisture, are just those that make conditions favorable to fire.

The missing ingredient, Mathewson said, is what sets the fire off.

"The big wild card in all this is ignition. So you can have a very hot, dry, windy day, without ignition, you don't have fire.

What happens over the next 30 to 45 days will set the stage for 2015 fire conditions across the Rockies, Mathewson said. The Center will release an updated wildfire outlook in early May.

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