Fire threat remains low, but that can change quickly with drier weather

Forest Service constantly monitors conditions

PIKE NATIONAL FOREST, Colo. - Colorado has had a relatively quiet fire season for 2014.  Thankfully, a good snowpack from the winter and consistent rains this summer have kept that danger low.

You may think it has been a "rainy" Colorado summer, but it's actually been an "average" summer of rain amounts and temperatures. The frequent rain has been a huge help lessen the summer's fire season.

Even with consistent rains, it does not take long to dry out and to see an increase in the fire danger despite how 'wet' the year has seemingly been.

Just a week without rain will sharply increase the fire risk, so the Forest Service is constantly monitoring fuel moisture levels.

7NEWS went along and observed the process of checking the fire threat.  We headed to the Pike National Forest.

Various samples of different fuel types are taken. These range from pine needles, to ground cover, to various sizes of branches and tree trunks. After weighing them, the samples are then placed into an oven and baked for 24 hours, then weighed again. The weight difference that's recorded is the amount of water that's in each type of fuel.

The moisture level indicates the potential for that fuel type to burn. This data is gathered every two weeks from dozens of sites around the state. Images are attached to this article showing the national fuel moisture.

This information is used at the regional and national level to help in fire behavior predictions for wildland fires. The data will also assist with resource allocations; meaning, firefighters and equipment will shift within regions of greatest concern based on the measurements.

"We come out here and do this sampling so we aren't just saying well these are all green trees, they look healthy, they aren't going to burn. This way we have a real tangible idea of what's going on out there and can act on it," said Jay Karle, engine captain with the U.S. Forest Service.

Karle emphasized that anyone spending time in the high country should know the current fire threat (shown throughout the high country) AND do their own evaluation. If the grass appears to be yellowing from drying out, or if ground cover cracks as you walk over the forest floor, then you know the fire danger is high enough to be a concern.

Since careless campfires are a large cause to wildfires, the Forest Service recommends that any campfire be properly doused.

"The proper method that they [campfire users] should use is to bring a shovel and to bring plenty of water ... bring a couple 5 gallon jugs depending on the size of fire ... dump water and mix some dirt into it. Add more water and mix more dirt into it," according to the USFS.

Karle adds that if you feel any heat coming from the fire pit to add more water and more dirt.  That heat can smolder for days, posing a fire risk long after the campfire is extinguished.

For more information on how the fuel moisture data is collected, visit: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/dyk/deadfuelmoisture

How to defend your home and community from wildfire: http://www.fireadapted.org/

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