ASPEN, Colo. — A newly released report has shown western Colorado will remain at an “above normal significant fire risk” through August this year as a large swath of the U.S. West grapples with triple-digit temperatures and drought.
A predictive services team for federal agencies said little relief is expected from the monsoon this year, except in higher elevations in southwest Colorado, so the wildfire risk is not expected to diminish until September, The Aspen Times reported.
As a result of the conditions, the White River National Forest enacted Stage 1 fire restrictions starting Friday, which prohibit campfires without metal grates and outdoor smoking. The Bureau of Land Management will also enact Stage 1 fire restrictions for lands in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties.
The White River National Forest spans 3,572 square miles (9,250 square kilometers) across nine counties in western Colorado. Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said Wednesday he is urging his full-time employees to take time off now because the looming fire threat will mean long, busy summer days.
“All of us in the fire management world are nervous right now,” Fitzwilliams said. “In my almost 12 years here now, it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
Fitzwilliams attributed the conditions to low fuel moisture content in vegetation and super dry soils that instantly absorb precipitation.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows the western half of Pitkin County in extreme drought and the higher-altitude eastern half in severe drought. Officials say the conditions are similar around the state.
Fitzwilliams said the challenge is “getting people to understand this is the new normal.”
The combination of drought induced by climate change, decades of built-up fuels in national forests and the exploding growth in areas where forests meet civilization means wildfires will pose an ongoing threat, he said.