COLORADO SPRINGS – It may still be winter season, but after a historic year for forest fires in our state in 2020, firefighters and members of the US Forest Service are already preparing for what we might see in 2021. News5 looks back at a glance how bad the fires were in 2020 and why the risk of fire is already a cause for concern this year.
One of the most common things News5 heard from several forest management and fire departments we spoke to is the idea that Colorado "fire season" is currently becoming a year-round threat.
News5 Meteorologist Sam Schreier helped put Colorado's forest fires in 2020 in perspective and why we might be positioned for another historic year in 2021.
"We had reported 1,078 fires and we had burned about 625,000 acres. If you had put all of the areas that burned in 2020 in one place, it would have been all the way through Colorado Springs, the surrounding towns, Fort Carson, and even a little." burned further back in Teller County, "said Schreier. "If we burned down an area the size of the Pikes Peak region in 2020, we know we are already in a drought again. We continued that drought last year and had all these fires."
Schreier says he has some major concerns about how things will play out in 2021.
"Unless there is some kind of big snow in March or April and we have a La Nina pattern. So that's not too likely. So we are likely to continue this drought again, which would mean the forest will be very landscaped dry again, "said Schreier.
These arid conditions coupled with invasive species like bark beetles are killing trees and turning them into more fuel for fast moving and massive forest fires.
News5 spoke to a director of the United States Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Regional Office, who said the growing population in Colorado is creating more opportunities for errors and man-made fires alongside natural threats.
"The population increase of course in the front area and in such areas is really a problem. Given the COVID situation last year, it seemed a lot more people were crowding into the forest and into the national forest. Our law enforcement officers had a saying and an observation, that every day was like a weekend and the weekends like July 4th, "said Danny Bryant of the Rocky Mountain Regional Office's US Forest Service.
U.S. Forest Service officials report that News5's work has already begun to see what remedial action can be taken to try to clean up some of the dead trees and devastating fuels that are responsible for such major events.
In response to the historic fires of 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis hopes to make a large investment in forest fire fighting, mitigation and prevention. He plans $ 78 million for the effort.