2 February wildfires highlight Colorado’s changing fire season

Local News

AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Windy and dry conditions remain a top concern for fire crews around the Denver metro area and across the front range following two wildfires on Super Bowl Sunday. 

South Metro Fire Rescue (SMFR) continued working on containment of the Cherry Creek State Park fire Monday. It scorched 243 acres and came dangerously close to townhomes on the border of the park. 

“We calculate that it was moving at about four and a half feet per second when it was coming at these homes so there wasn’t a lot of time to prepare and certainly too dangerous for firefighters to get in front of,” South Metro Fire Rescue’s Eric Hurst told FOX31. 

He says the biggest challenge for SMFR was battling the Cherry Creek fire while also aiding in the fight against an even larger fire burning near Bear Creek Lake Park in Lakewood. 

“We were pretty close to red flag warning criteria yesterday and most people think about wildland season being in the summer or maybe in the fall months, not so much February, but we had those ideal conditions for fire growth,” Hurst said. 

He says while high temperatures can make fire conditions worse, lower temperatures do not lessen the risk for wildfires during dry and windy red flag conditions. 

“We can go from literally freezing temperatures and snow to a red flag warning in a 12 hour period,” he said. 

Fire crews encountered similar conditions on Sunday. 

“We were dealing with zero degree wind chill, we were dealing with pumps on our wildland fire trucks freezing and the fire was still actively burning in the grass and in the timber,” he said. 

According to Hurst, areas west of Elbert County were 32% drier over the past 30 years than the 30 years before that. 

“What people may have grown up in Colorado knowing as fire season doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. 

Now, Colorado is considered to have a “year-round” fire season. 

“Unless we have snow cover down here we can have a wildfire,” Pinpoint Weather Meteorologist Chris Tomer said. 

Currently, the Denver area is in the middle of a 13-day dry streak. This comes after already spending 12 months in drought conditions. 

“If we don’t get any reasonable or significant amounts of precipitation we are in trouble here in Denver and across the Front Range,” he said. 

Tomer says when it comes to dry conditions, current conditions are similar to 2018, 2012 and 2002 which were all very difficult fire years. 

“It’s more like 2002,” he said. “2002 is like what all other years are measured by. It was the driest year.”

He says with Colorado’s snowiest months still ahead, there is hope. 

“March and April are our two snowiest months on average,” Tomer said. 

Still, Sunday’s two wildfires are a reminder for all Coloradans living near open spaces to be prepared at all times. 

“For people who are new to Colorado they should know that anytime we haven’t received meaningful precipitation and we add wind to that equation, even if it’s cold, we can still have a wildland fire,” Hurst said. 

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