Out like a lion, in like a wildfire

 

Back in December, when temperatures at HCN-HQ in Paonia plummeted regularly into face-shattering freezingness and the high country softened under pillows, featherbeds, jumpy-castles of snow, it was easy to imagine Colorado's immediate future rife with moisture. Maybe even a mild spring on the high plains, piled with wildflowers and lushly green around the edges and ... well ... not engulfed in flames by March.

As a Coloradan, I should know better.

Despite the fact that much of the state still has a robust mountain snowpack, more than 25,000 acres had  already burned in 66 wildfires as of March 29, many of them on the Front Range, home of the Denver et al. megalopolis, which has tangled its suburby fingers up through the foothills into already fire-prone terrain. Compare that to last year's TOTAL -- 44,000 acres. The warm, dry conditions on the Front Range are even prompting comparisons to 2002, which saw dry conditions around the West and one of the most destructive fire seasons in Colorado history -- with nearly one million acres scorched.

“The recent wildfire activity ... is a wake–up call to what has the potential to be a tough fire season," Regional Forester Rick Cables observed late last month. No sooner had his statement spread through the press than another fire kicked up in the foothills west of Fort Collins this past weekend, and, whipped by gusts from a late winter storm, consumed 3,200 acres and destroyed at least 15 homes. It's now only 15 percent contained, with firefighters bracing for more dry windy weather as another storm barrels towards the mountains.



And Colorado isn't the only state off to a scorching start. Three quarters of Texas are in severe drought -- with October through February the fifth driest period in the state's recorded history -- and 74,000+ acres had burned there through March 29. In New Mexico, the number was nearly 90,000. The White Fire, which started Sunday, reached 10,000 acres before firefighters were able to contain it 20 percent and lift evacuation orders. The same weekend saw 27 fires around the state -- you can find a great rundown on those here.

And if you're interested in keeping tabs on wildfire elsewhere in this, the flaming spring, bookmark Inciweb. It's got the goods, regularly updated, for full fire geekery.

On the plus side, a brief survey of our Facebook community reveals that the Northwest (including Idaho) is still sodden with spring moisture, though the eastern front of the Sierra is seeing some fire activity, with the town of Big Pine threatened by a 2,000 acre blaze from an escaped campfire in late March. And in Utah, HCN Facebook follower Jared Blackley reports, folks are more worried about floods than fire along the Wasatch Front.

Jared, we here in Colorado would gladly take some of that moisture off of Utah's hands. Can you send some of it our way, pretty pretty please? 

Sarah Gilman is HCN's Associate Editor.

Photo of Crystal Fire, burning west of Fort Collins and Loveland, Colo., courtesy of Dan O'Donnell.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CLIMATE EDUCATION AND STEWARDSHIP (CES) COMMUNICATIONS DESIGNER
    Seeking an individual to design and develop marketing and support materials for a 1-year, 30-hour per week, grant-funded climate education program. Based in Durango, CO....
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL OFFICE MANAGER - BOOKKEEPER
    The Wyoming Outdoor Council is seeking an office manager-bookkeeper to join our team. The office manager-bookkeeper supports the program and administrative functions of the Wyoming...
  • HEALTHY RIVERS SENIOR STAFF ATTORNEY
    WRA seeks a passionate attorney to join our Healthy Rivers team. The Senior Staff Attorney will research and advocate for wiser water management and updated...
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and will be accepted until: February 03, 2020. Overview Conservation Voters for Idaho (CVI) protects Idaho's environment...
  • WRITING SKILLS TUTOR FOR HIRE!
    Fort Collins, CO college students welcome. Meet on your college campus!
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com