Quiet Start to Wildfire Season, Officials Say Wet Weather Could Actually Make It Worst

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

Officials say the wet, cool start to summer has all but extinguished the early part of wildfire season -- but they say it could create problems later into the summer.

Meteorologist Joe Ramey has lived in Western Colorado for years -- and he says if there's one thing he's learned, it's to expect the unexpected.

"We have had a wetter and cooler than normal spring," said Ramey, who works for the National Weather Service.

He says June is typically the driest month of the year on the Western Slope. But this year, Mother Nature has felt otherwise. According to the National Weather Service, Grand Junction has received .44 inches in June and 4.49 inches in 2009 -- both well above average numbers.

"We've already gone beyond what's average for the entire month so far," said Ramey. "And it looks like we're going to get more before the month is over.

That's why he says he's not surprised we haven't seen the wildfires that we're used to seeing this time of year.

"It's helped to keep the fuels moist," said Ramey. "Therefore, we've so far escaped without any large fires."

But the quiet start to fire season has come as a surprise to Upper Colorado River Fire Management crews, who say for the past six years, the beginning of summer has always meant working at least one major fire.

"We basically have seen no action so, which in a lot of ways can be good," said Erin Curtis, spokesperson for the Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit. "But it's important people don't get complacent."

While they say there are definite benefits to the lack of action --

"Obviously it's a benefit budget wise to the national budget that we haven't had a lot of catastrophic fires," said Curtis.

-- They add there are also downsides. Officials say wetter weather means more grasses and other small plants that fires feed on.

"A couple of hot days and we have a lot more fuel than usual that could light and start something," said Curtis.

They say that becomes even more concerning during a time when Valley residents aren't under any fire restrictions.

"This is the first time in five or six years that we haven't had fire restrictions in place by this time," said Curtis.

Forecasters say fortunately we should be safe for a little while longer.

"We're looking at more moisture potential later this week and then maybe into early next week," said Ramey.

But they say Grand Valley residents need to exercise caution when it comes to fire, especially with Country Jam and the 4th of July quickly approaching -- because in Western Colorado, things can change suddenly, and you should always expect the unexpected.

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