Fern Lake Fire's growth fueled by drought, wind and beetle-killed trees

ESTES PARK, Colo. - The rapid advance of the Fern Lake Fire overnight is largely due to winds that gusted as high as 75 miles per hour, but two other factors paved the way by ensuring a plethora of available fuels.

Rocky Mountain National Park spokeswoman Traci Weaver said the fire area, west of Estes Park, hadn't burned since the 1500's. That created a dense forest, much of which was killed by beetle infestation.

Perhaps the bigger problem, for this fire and others throughout the second half of 2012, is the ongoing drought.

Based on averages from weather stations near the fire area, a dismal 12 inches of precipitation has fallen in the area during 2012. That includes about three-feet of snowfall, which is well below the average amount.

Larimer County is in a section of the state that is considered to be in a moderate drought, and is actually in an area of least drought for the state.  There is exceptional drought for the eastern plains with much of the rest of Colorado in an extreme drought. 

“What we really need is snow. It would be great if we could get some good snowfall on this fire," Weaver said.

The winter outlook does not call for the moisture needed to beat the drought.  Near average to below average snowfall is expected statewide.  Temperatures are expected to be well above normal throughout the winter too.

Meteorologist Matt Makens forecasts the drought is likely to persist through early 2013.

Thankfully, Makens also forecasts lighter wind overnight.  Wind speeds will be less than 10mph, with occasional gusts to 15mph, overnight through midday Sunday. 

Overnight hours are when relative humidity levels rise as temperatures fall.  With lows in the 20s at the fire site, early morning humidity should be high enough to help the firefighting efforts.

The problem with the wind will come back Sunday afternoon, evening, and overnight into Monday.  A weak weather system will raise wind gusts into the 30+mph range Sunday evening.  Right now, we expect peak wind gusts from 5pm to midnight.  Sadly, no moisture will move through this area with that next system.