CENTENNIAL – Gov. John Hickenlooper urged Coloradans on Thursday to remain cautious and prevent wildfires despite recent snow and rain, warning that Colorado is still preparing for another “challenging” wildfire season.
Hickenlooper said the danger of wildfires starting and spreading isn’t as bad as last year, but it is still higher than normal, and he doesn’t want people to let their guard down.
“I don’t think we’re going to see what we saw in 2012 or 2002, thank God,” Hickenlooper said at his annual wildfire briefing with state and federal officials at Centennial Airport. He was joined by representatives of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Last year by this time, one major wildfire had already claimed three lives after a state-prescribed burn sparked a wildfire in the Jefferson County foothills following the driest March on record in the Denver area. Three other people were also killed and around 650 houses destroyed during the lingering fire season. A wildfire burned through the winter in Rocky Mountain National Park. The state also experienced a bad fire season in 2002.
This year, a wet spring has helped ease the threat in the northern and central mountains and the populated Front Range foothills, though all parts of the state are still in some degree of drought.
The southeastern corner of the state is the driest after two years of drought. The Fort Collins and Greeley areas, meanwhile, are ranked as having the least severe drought conditions.
The Forest Service predicts fire danger in southern Colorado could be above-average as early as late May. The rest of the state is expected to experience average fire potential conditions from May to August.
The Forest Service warned that the outlook is for a drier and warmer than average May and June, and Hickenlooper emphasized that residents need to understand that fires are still a very real risk, even with the recent rains.
“You get lulled into a sense of security when you have a couple weeks of rain,” he said.
Hickenlooper and Paul Cooke, director of Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control, said the onus is on residents to take appropriate fire precautions, though the governor worried the wet conditions might hinder that effort.
“How do we try to encourage and motivate people to take a more serious attitude?” he asked, talking about the need for people to cut down trees that are close to their homes, regardless of aesthetic value.