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Denver metro area now in a severe drought

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- After a few months of unusually dry and warm weather, Denver hit 80 degrees on the final day of winter on Sunday.

Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed the eastern half of Colorado in a moderate drought. There was one spot in a severe drought over Lincoln County and an extreme drought in far southeastern Colorado.

But just one week later, the drought monitor shows large areas over metro Denver and northern Colorado have also deteriorated into serious drought conditions.

Drought, mixed with hot, windy weather and low relative humidity are creating dangerous fire conditions across the Front Range.

“The fire season doesn’t care what month it is,” said Eric Hurst, spokesman for South Metro Fire Rescue.

Such extreme fire conditions change the way fire departments deploy their resources. SMFR is sending its brush trucks along on every call, even for paramedic calls, just in case.

“We know that the rate of spread today could be up to 150 feet per minute for a brush fire. We really need every second to get there and get ahead of it,” Hurst said.

Officials also are checking the weather conditions every two hours to give their firefighters accurate wind, temperature and relative humidity readings.

Depending on the weather conditions, crews need to adapt their techniques.

“The flame height could actually be close to 8 feet tall today, which is actually too tall for firefighters to attack at the head of the fire,” Hurst said. “We might have to take more of a defensive position when we go to a fire like that or be a little creative than a standard brush fire in normal conditions.”

As of 4 p.m. Sunday, SMFR was reporting a 90 percent probability of ignition in its fire protection district.

That means that nine out of 10 times an object that is on fire or a spark that lands in dry grass or other fire fuels will ignite. According to Hurst, those conditions are considered extreme.

Something as simple as a spark from a lawnmower can start a grass fire.

Anyone who sees or starts a brush fire is asked to call 911 immediately before attempting to extinguish it.