Wildfire outlook: Dry, western Colorado at most risk

May 15, 2015
Photo: Wildfire slurry bomber at sunset, Loveland, Colo 2010 (AP)
A slurry bomber drops fire retardant on a burning ridge as the sun sets behind it as a wildfire burns west of Loveland, Colorado,  in this Sept. 12, 2010, file photo.

In a report to the governor on Friday, fire officials say they are expecting a below average to average fire season across Colorado this year, with the driest and most fire-prone areas being in western Colorado. 

Paul Cook, director of the Division of Fire Prevention and Control says just because the fire risk is lower than in previous years, doesn’t mean large wildfires are not a possibility.

“An average fire season in Colorado is still over 3,000 wild land fires. Thirty of those will be large fires, 100 acres or more. We’ll still see 100,000 acres of forest land destroyed," he said.

Last year, a total of about 3,700 fires burned about 36 square miles across the state. In 2013, about 1,200 fires burned nearly 305 square miles.

Photo: 2015 Wildfire Outlook, Hickenlooper podium (Heffel)
Gov. John Hickenlooper talks about the state's 2015 Wildfire Preparedness Plan at Centennial Airport on Friday, May 15, 2015.

The new multi-mission planes will allow firefighters to detect small fires before they have a chance to grow into mega wildfires like those seen in 2002 and 2012. 

Gov. John Hickenlooper welcomed the additions to the fleet.

“They have infrared capability so that they’ll be able to after a night of wild thunderstorm activity we know we’ve had 100 lightning strikes along a specific ridge they’ll be able to go directly there and they’ll be able to sense even a fire just starting in a tree," the governor said.

Photo: 2015 Wildfire Outlook, Hickenlooper signs document (Heffel)
Gov.John Hickenlooper signs an executive order accepting the state's Wildfire Preparedness Plan and authorizes the use of the Wildfire Preparedness Fund for fighting wildfires.  He's flanked, from left, by Paul Cooke, director of the state's Division of Fire Prevention and Control, and Stan Hilkey, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

On Tuesday, veteran firefighter Don Whittemore and his daughter Madison, told Colorado Matters  that western wildfires are growing more intense and destructive -- and that climate change is partly the cause. 

And on May 5, we noted that U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell believed there’s a 90 percent chance that the agency will run out of funding this year to fight the costliest wildfires.