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Colorado fire outlook on par with some of the state’s worst fire seasons

GOLDEN, Colo. -- Colorado could be on track for one of the busiest wildfire seasons on record, according to experts.

Climatologists, meteorologists and fire scientists at the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center compile data all year for a handful of states in the region, including Colorado.

They use the information to predict what peak fire seasons will be like so they can have resources ready.

“We do believe that we’re going to see an above average fire season in Colorado,” center manager Scott Swendsen said.

Colorado is considered among the states with the highest fire danger because it has a lot of vegetation, is relatively dry year-round and the state is prone to lightning.

“We kind of go back 60 days or so to look at what we’ve been experiencing,” Swendsen said.

This past winter, Colorado’s mountains haven’t had nearly enough snow.

According to data from RMAC, as of March 22, Colorado’s central mountains had 80 percent of the median snowpack, the southwestern mountains had 55 percent of the median and the southern Front Range had just 32 percent of the median.

“We are at minimal snowpack in most of these areas,” Swendsen said.

The lack of snow during the winter isn’t always a certainty that the summer fire season will be busy. RMAC also looks ahead to climate predictions heading into the warmer months.

“Our climate activity for the next 30 to 60 days is going to probably be more warmer than normal and drier than normal,” Swendsen said.

While these conditions are unusual, they are not unheard of.

“Those types of things are very similar to our years where we had experienced very large fire season,” he said.

For example, conditions in 2018 are very similar at this point to 2013, when the Black Forest Fire burned more than 14,000 acres.

According to RMAC, by April 1, 2013, Colorado had 59 percent of its median snowpack. By April 1, 2018, Colorado only had 54 percent of its median snowpack.

“Colorado can have a very active fire season,” Swendsen said.

Now the big question is, will it be average or will it be extreme?

“It’s a little early to tell exactly what this season is going to be,” Swendsen said.

He said with a lot of good, soaking rain, Colorado can still dig itself out of the fire danger zone before it’s too late.