#Colorado officials warn of the potential for wildfire this season

From The Denver Post via The Fort Morgan Times:

Conditions are setting up what could be the worst summer wildfire season in Colorado since the one-two punch of 2012 and 2013, officials said Friday, when devastating blazes ravaged areas across the state.

“It appears that this will probably be the worst one, forecast-wise, in quite some time,” said Mike Morgan, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. “Abnormally dry weather and a dry winter has left our mountains nearly barren.”

While state fire officials hedged that it’s too early to have a hard-and-fast prediction for what fire conditions will be this summer, things aren’t looking up.

Snowpack levels, especially in the southeast and southwest parts of the state, are much lower than normal. On top of that, the U.S. Drought Monitor says as of Thursday that 87.62 percent of the state is either experiencing abnormally dry, moderate drought, severe drought or extreme drought conditions.

Only extreme northeast Colorado and the northern mountains bordering Wyoming are in the clear…

Since the 2012 and 2013 fire seasons, when the Black Forest, Waldo Canyon and High Park fires caused hundreds of millions in dollars in damage and consumed hundreds of homes, Colorado has bolstered its ability to respond to wildland blazes, spending millions of dollars to be better prepared.

That includes the purchase of two high-tech, single-engine airplanes capable of detecting hot spots and problem areas from above. The airplanes — specially outfitted Pilatus PC-12s, which cost several million dollars each — are also able to identify new fires much faster than before…

The state also is in contract negotiations to get aid from the “Global Supertanker” — a converted 747 jumbo jet capable of dropping massive loads of water and fire retardant on blazes.

Fire behavior has been mild in Colorado since 2013, meaning this summer could be the first real test for the innovations.

State lawmakers this legislative session are seeking to spend even more on prevention efforts, in addition to federal wildfire-fighting funding changes that are expected to begin bolstering the U.S. Forest Service this year.

“I think it’s safe to say that we are more prepared now than we ever have been,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “We are now so much better prepared.”

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