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How could the snowpack impact the upcoming fire season?

Wet winter helped, but fire danger remains
Posted at 7:53 AM, May 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-07 09:55:36-04

After a wetter-than-average winter in Colorado, many are wondering if it will mean a less severe wildfire season. Historically, there has been a correlation between low snowpack and more severe fires.

The years 2018, 2012 and 2002 are all notable examples of when low winter snowpack was followed by destructive fire seasons. But higher snow totals don't completely eliminate the fire threat.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Greg Hanson, a meteorologist with NOAA and the National Weather Service in Boulder. "Those (wet) conditions will grow a lot of the fine fuels, so later in the summer when things dry out — that could provide more fuel for wildfires along the front range."

Hanson said, without a doubt, the mountains are looking better this year than last year. The snowpack is at 134% of normal, and that will take awhile to melt, which will help keep large trees moist and reduce the fire threat. Forecasters are also expecting a wetter than normal spring. But the summer conditions are harder to predict.

"There’s always a chance we could dry out later this summer, and even with the good snowpack, it doesn’t mean that we are not going to have a fire season at all in the mountains. It could be just later," said Hanson.

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control said the fire danger has grown in recent decades. Of the 20 largest wildfires in Colorado’s history, five occurred in 2018, 13 occurred since 2010, and all 20 happened after 2000. Around 2.9 million Coloradans now live in the wildland-urban interface, compared to 2 million people just five years ago. It's important to prepare your property for fire season.

The National Fire Protection Association has tips on its website for preparing your home and surrounding property.