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Environment

Average Fire Season Expected For Colorado, Rockies

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Rocky Mountain Coordination Center
Seasonal wildfire outlook for Colorado and nearby states, as of May 11, 2015.

Recent rains have helped to dampen the wildfire forecast for the Rocky Mountains. Storms in April and May brought much-needed moisture to the region after a warm, dry March.

The May 11, 2015 seasonal wildfire outlook released by the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center says most of the region has an average fire potential. A big swath of Colorado's Front Range, extending east into Nebraska and Kansas, comes in a bit below average. 

Earlier in the spring, Tim Mathewson, a fire meteorologist with the Denver-based coordination center, had expressed concern about the warm, dry, late-winter weather, worrying the region was heading into an active season if conditions failed to change.

Cool weather and strong rain and snowstorms in late spring relieved those concerns. So even though snowmelt was early, following warm temperature, fuels in the mountains are soaked and less likely to ignite, said Mathewson.

Although the wet weather causes grass to grow, eventually increasing the available fuels later in the season, it also suppresses fire potential early in the summer.

Mathewson did caution that just because the year is average or below average in much of Colorado, it does not mean there won't be fires.

"Even last year [2014] which was a very wet spring and summer we had a 20,000-acre fire in Northwest Colorado [that grew significantly] in three hours," said Mathewson.

The northwest Rockies, in northern Wyoming and into western Montana and Idaho, and also parts of Nevada's Great Basin, will have higher fire potential later in the season, said Mathewson. That's where the region starts sharing in the drought conditions currently gripping the Pacific Northwest and California.

Then next wildfire outlook will be released in mid-June 2015.

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