Colorado wildfires: Updates on the 2022 season

By: and - May 19, 2022 12:46 pm

Aboard a Colorado National Guard helicopter, Gov. Jared Polis on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, gets a flyover tour of Boulder County neighborhoods destroyed by wildfires the previous day. He was accompanied by Brig. Gen. Laura Clellan, Adjutant General of Colorado, and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse also toured the area in a separate helicopter. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR, pool)

When Colorado lawmakers and emergency officials gave an update in April ahead of the 2022 wildfire season, their assessment was grim.

“We may very well be heading into the worst fire season in our state’s history,” Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, said at a news conference at the Capitol. “I hope I am terribly wrong about that, but we need to prepare for the worst-case scenario.”

As of May 17, more than half of Colorado remained under a “severe” drought classification from the U.S. Drought Monitor, and that figure could rise throughout the summer after a faster-than-usual depletion of snowpack across the state. High winds and unseasonably warm spring temperatures have exacerbated fire risk, especially in the foothills along the Front Range and on the Eastern Plains.

“Episodes of strong downslope wind events off the … Front Range eastward across the High Plains were much more frequent and intense,” wrote officials with the National Interagency Fire Center in a May update. “The National Weather Service offices in Wyoming and Colorado reported record numbers of High Wind Warnings. In April, Colorado observed 19 consecutive days with Red Flag Warnings, which is unprecedented.”

A grass fire threatened the Colorado Springs Airport on May 14, 2022. (Colorado Springs Fire Department)

As the year began, crews were still working to officially contain the smoldering Marshall Fire, which tore through suburban communities in Boulder County on Dec. 30, killing two people and destroying more than 1,000 homes. Since then, several small fires have similarly threatened Front Range communities, including the NCAR Fire in Boulder in late March and a May 14 grass fire that caused a shelter-in-place order at the Colorado Springs Airport.

Monthly forecasts from the NIFC continue to project above-average risk for “significant wildland fires” across much of Colorado in May and June.

Fueled by climate change, much of Colorado has grown hotter and drier in recent decades, increasing wildfire risk. The three largest wildfires in Colorado history all occurred in 2020, and the state’s 20 biggest fires on record have all occurred in the past 20 years.

 

Last updated 12:45 p.m., May 19, 2022.

7 months ago

Simms Fire forces evacuations near Montrose

By: - Friday May 20, 2022 12:42 pm

A wildfire that is believed to have resulted from a prescribed burn in the Uncompaghre National Forest is being “aggressively suppressed” and has forced evacuations in the area south of Montrose, U.S. Forest Service officials said Friday.

A map of the 371-acre Simms Fire and the surrounding area as of May 20, 2022. (U.S. Forest Service)

Three structures have been reported lost as a result of the Simms Fire, and officials say others are threatened. The Montrose County Sheriff’s Office has ordered evacuations of all residents within a five-mile radius of the fire’s origin on Simms Mesa, located on southwestern Colorado’s Uncompahgre Plateau.

“Yesterday and overnight firefighters made good progress constructing hand and dozer lines,” officials wrote in an update Friday morning. “Air tankers and helicopters were used yesterday to assist fire resources with retardant and water drops to slow fire progression.”

The area in question was the site of a prescribed burn initiated by the Forest Service earlier this week. The Simms Mesa prescribed burn planned to scorch approximately 200 acres “to increase the resiliency and reproduction of native ponderosa pine stands” and mitigate fire risk, officials wrote on May 16. The prescribed burn had previously been scheduled for May 5 but was delayed due to weather conditions.

Officials estimated the Simms Fire at 371 acres, and said that no growth was observed overnight.

Prescribed fires are routinely ignited by public and private land managers to promote healthy forest ecosystems, reduce hazardous fuels, combat invasive species and achieve other objectives. “After many years of fire exclusion, an ecosystem that needs periodic fire becomes unhealthy,” the Forest Service says. “Trees are stressed by overcrowding; fire-dependent species disappear; and flammable fuels build up and become hazardous.”

The apparent unplanned growth of the Simms Fire follows the “escape” of another prescribed burn overseen by the Forest Service in New Mexico last month. The Hermits Peak Fire began as a prescribed burn east of Santa Fe in early April but has grown to nearly 300,000 acres in size, becoming the largest fire in the state’s history.

7 months ago

High Park Fire in Teller County reaches 87% containment

By: - Thursday May 19, 2022 12:45 pm

Crews fighting the 1,500-acre High Park Fire west of Cripple Creek in Teller County increased containment to 87% on Wednesday, giving officials hope that Colorado’s largest wildfire to date this year could soon be brought fully under control.

A Red Flag Warning has been issued for the area due to a forecast that calls for high winds and low humidity Thursday afternoon, but the threat from the fire could be further reduced by the cooler temperatures and precipitation expected for the weekend.

A map of the 1,500-acre High Park Fire in Teller County. (Bureau of Land Management)

“The remaining uncontained section of the fire is on the south end of Division Z east of Booger Red Hill and Fourmile Creek,” officials wrote in an update Thursday. “Crews will continue to patrol contained sections of the fireline looking for hotspots and will remain vigilant through today’s red flag warning.”

All road closures and evacuations from the fire have been lifted as of Wednesday, officials said, though the Teller County Sheriff’s Office says that people wishing to enter the area must present a valid ID or other proof of residency.

The High Park Fire was first reported on May 12, and its cause is under investigation. No injuries or damage to structures have been reported.

An estimated 367 personnel were officially assigned to the fire as of Wednesday, but that will drop precipitously in the coming days as the fire is brought under control, officials said.

“As much of the work on the fire nears completion, some resources are being demobilized and made available for reassignment to other fires,” fire officials wrote.

7 months ago

Great Sand Dunes National Park reopens after Medano Fire closure

By: - 12:43 pm
The burn area of the 306-acre Medano Fire, which caused the closure of Great Sand Dunes National Park on May 18, 2022. (National Park Service)

Great Sand Dunes National Park has reopened after a grass fire along the road to the park’s entrance caused a closure that lasted several hours on Wednesday.

The Medano Fire reached 306 acres in size and was 80% contained as of Wednesday night, park officials wrote in an update.

”Park staff continue to work with multiple partners including the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Alamosa Fire Department, Mosca/Hooper Fire Department, and responding personnel from the San Luis Valley Interagency Fire Management Unit,” park officials wrote. “Great Sand Dunes would like to thank all who helped keep our staff and visitors safe.”

Officials say the fire was caused by lightning, and no injuries or structure damage have been reported.

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