Colorado is experiencing a new normal for wildfires with several destructive, record-setting fires occurring over the past two years driven by extreme weather and drought. With ongoing drought and warming temperatures across the state continuing to elevate wildfire risk for many Coloradans, state and federal agencies that manage wildfires and forests are urging residents to join in efforts to reduce that risk.
May is Wildfire Awareness Month, an annual observance to encourage residents to better prepare their homes and communities for wildfires. With more than half of all Coloradans living in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), susceptible to wildfire, it’s important for people to take action to reduce the risk fire poses to their homes and create more fire-adapted communities.
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control anticipates above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation from now into June. That will result in the persistence and expansion of drought conditions across the state and the emergence of above average, significant fire potential over the eastern portions of Colorado this spring. Continuation of the warm and dry conditions is expected to result in drought intensification and earlier than average spring snowpack runoff, leading to above-normal large fire potential expanding across southern Colorado in May and throughout most of Colorado by June.
“Wildfire season is a thing of the past – it is a year-round battle. Colorado’s core fire season is now an average of 78 days longer than it was in the ’70s,” said DFPC Director Mike Morgan. “We are calling on those that live, work, and play in Colorado to help reduce the impact of wildfires by being vigilant, respecting fire restrictions when they are in place, and doing your part to protect your property from wildfire.”
Practical Steps to Lower Wildfire Risk
During Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on Saturday, May 7, many communities across Colorado will take steps to reduce their risk of fire. Colorado is home to 186 official Firewise USA® sites, places where neighbors are working together to reduce their risk of inevitable wildfires.
Whether they live in a Firewise USA® site or not, homeowners living in the WUI can do a number of practical activities to protect their homes and property from wildfire. The Colorado State Forest Service recommends the following wildfire preparation activities:
- Rake and remove pine needles and dry leaves 5 feet from the home, as well as under decks, porches, sheds, and play structures.
- Remove leaves and needles from roofs and gutters.
- Sweep porches and decks clear of any burnable plant material.
- Move firewood piles at least 30 feet from the house, preferably uphill.
- Transfer items under decks or porches to a storage area.
- Cover any exposed eave or attic vents with 1/8-inch metal mesh screening.
- Ensure home address signs are clearly visible from the street.
- Contact your local Office of Emergency Management to register for emergency notifications and encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to do the same.
- Confirm at least one alternate path out of your neighborhood other than the one most commonly used and be prepared for potential evacuation requiring the alternative route.
“Taking care of these simple, but critically important, tasks will better prepare you and your family for a wildfire,” said Matt McCombs, State Forester and Director of the CSFS. “These are actions anyone living adjacent to wildlands should put into practice. Last December’s Marshall Fire was a tragic, eye-opening reminder that the wildland-urban interface includes grasslands, not just forests. Homeowners have a responsibility to themselves and their families, as well as their community, to prepare their home and property for wildfire, and these activities are the perfect place to start.”
Prevention When Outdoors
Please keep wildfire prevention in mind when visiting your public lands. Simple measures can reduce the fire risk and provide for a much safer outing. Know before you go by checking for closures or restrictions during periods of high fire danger. When traveling to and from your public lands, ensure that the chains to your trailer are not dragging since these can spark wildfires. Your vehicle should also be equipped with a spark arrester. Do not park in tall, dry grass because the heat from your car can start a wildfire. If you smoke, smoke in your vehicle, and dispose of your cigarette properly.
If campfires or grills are allowed, clear vegetation away from the area and use a preexisting campfire ring when possible. Have the proper tools to extinguish the campfire nearby before you light it, including a bucket, water, and shovel. Keep your fire small and never leave it unattended. Flood your fire with plenty of water and be certain that the ashes are cold to the touch before leaving the area. Learn more at recreateresponsibly.org.
“Our need to respond to wildfires continues to increase as the intensity and duration of fire activity escalates across the state. Now, more than ever, we are pleased to stand together with our interagency partners as we approach Wildfire Awareness Month and the new fire year. Collectively, we will focus on fire prevention,” said Frank Beum, Regional Forester of the USDA Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region. “When there is fire activity, our goal will be rapid initial attack and fast containment to minimize the number of large fires. We will respond to every wildfire with public and firefighter safety as our highest priority,” he added.
Wildland fire management in Colorado is an interagency partnership among local, state, and federal agencies. The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control and USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region work with other local, state, and federal agencies to coordinate wildland fire management on a statewide basis. The Colorado State Forest Service works with the National Fire Protection Association to implement the Firewise USA® program in the state and provides technical assistance to homeowners and communities to help them take action and ownership in preparing their homes against the threat of wildfire.
By working together in these efforts, the ultimate goals of these agencies are resilient, fire-adapted landscapes and communities that best provide for firefighters, public safety, and the protection of natural resources.
For more information about reducing wildfire risk, search for the hashtag #COWildfireAware during May on Twitter and Facebook, or visit bit.ly/COWildfireMitigation.