Jul 18, 2023 - News

Colorado officials increasingly worried about wildfire danger

The Spring Creek Fire burns July 12, 2023, along the Colorado River in Parachute July. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Spring Creek Fire burns July 12 along the Colorado River in Parachute. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A cool, wet spring in Colorado is giving way to a hot, dry summer, and that shift is making state fire officials worried.

Threat level: The risk of wildfires this year is increasing, Colorado fire chief Mike Morgan said during a briefing for state lawmakers Tuesday.

  • Record hot temperatures and red-flag winds are creating "dangerous conditions," particularly on the Western Slope, he said, and the southeast region is seeing "1930s-era Dust Bowl dryness conditions or worse."

Why it matters: Colorado is drought-free for the first time in four years thanks to a good snow year and favorable spring weather, but officials and lawmakers worry it's created complacency among the public about potential fire dangers.

What they're saying: The state "unfortunately is starting to dry out and we are seeing a rapid increase in fire starts and growth," Morgan said in a presentation to legislative Wildfire Matters Review panel.

  • The tall grasses and other green vegetation that grew rapidly this spring are drying out and becoming potential fuel for fires. In addition, plentiful downed and dead trees in the forest are kindling for blazes.

By the numbers: Since March 31, Colorado officials have responded to five fires that burned 10,468 acres and cost the state $7.3 million to battle.

  • An average fire year is 5,507 blazes and roughly 222,000 acres burned, officials reported.

What to watch: Gov. Jared Polis and state lawmakers recently approved millions in new fire prevention and control projects, including purchasing two helicopters to battle blazes

  • The state's first Firehawk is expected to arrive next week, and become available for water-dropping missions within a couple weeks, Morgan said.
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