Grand County’s fire officials prepare for busy wildfire season based on forecaster predictions
Despite the late April snowfall Middle Park received over the weekend 2018 is shaping up to be a busy year for wildfires.
Colorado has already started burning. Last week the Badger Hole Fire kicked off in southeastern Colorado near the tiny town of Walsh with an estimated burn scar covering over 50,000 acres. Officials up in Grand County are planning and preparing for worst-case scenarios as the temperatures heat up and local fuel sources start drying out. Brad White, assistant chief for Grand Fire in Granby, recently reviewed the coming fire outlook as predicated by fire meteorologists with Predictive Services, part of the National Interagency Fire Center.
“Overall, balancing snowpack, predicted moisture, and predicted temps, the comparisons being draw are to 2012, 2006 and 2002,” White explained. “All pretty good fire years around the state. 70 percent of all large fires (10,000+ acres) in the Rocky Mountain region occurred in four season, three of which are in the current comparisons.”
White noted that the predictions for fire behavior are for large-scale fires and do not address small acreage fires, which are more common in Grand County. “Certainly the larger acreage fires trend up with larger numbers of initial starts,” White state. The fire outlook White and other fire officials are currently reviewing provides two predictive models for northern Colorado which predict average to slightly drier conditions over the summer couple with above average temperatures.
Locally White pointed out that 2017 was a wet summer and Grand County saw a low of growth in grasses and shrubs that have now “cured out” and are “ready for our early summer fires, especially on the west side of the county”, White stated. Average moisture in northern Colorado could produce additional light fuel growth throughout the summer White explained, which could contribute to busy late summer and early fall fire season, “especially if we get late snow in the fall,” White stated.
White added that he believes predictions of above average temperatures for 2018, if proven accurate, could lead to greater fire spread, as opposed to an increase in fire ignitions, which would be related more to below average moisture conditions.
“We’re seeing a lot of blow down from the dead trees now,” White stated. “In some areas there are not many dead trees standing. This contributes to fire spread, but also adds a lot of heat to (potential) fires, taking ore resources and more time to put the fire out.”
White pointed out that one of the biggest factors in Grand County are our fuel sources, which he referred to as a “problem”.
“2017 saw a lot of new comers to the county, and the fire district and GC Natural Resources did more responses and education on illegal burn piles in the summer than we had in a lot of years,” White stated. “There is another potential increase in risk for fire starts. I expect that trend to continue this year. We’re seeing an increase in human factors.”
Predictions of a busy 2018 wildfire season comes on the heels of a comparatively modest wildfire season for 2017 in Middle Park. Unlike the last few years Grand County did not experience a significant wildfire outbreak in 2017, though many small fire outbreaks did occur and were put down quickly by first responders. In 2016 the Gore Range Fire threatened homes west of Kremmling while the Byers Canyon Rifle Range Fire in 2015 sent crews throughout the county scrambling to put down that blaze.
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