Colorado among leading states nationwide for current wildfires | AspenTimes.com

Colorado among leading states nationwide for current wildfires

Kieran Nicholson
The Denver Post

More than a half-dozen wildfires are burning in Colorado, torching thousands of acres from the Wyoming border to the San Juan Mountains. The state is a hot spot nationally for wildfires as the potentially combustible Fourth of July holiday approaches.

The fires, in part, have been fueled by several days of scorching heat across the state, with temperatures climbing over 100 degrees in widespread areas Thursday. Weekend weather brings a cool down with a chance for showers and thunderstorms in northeastern and north central Colorado, but that weather system will move on quickly and its back to sunny skies and heat.

In southwestern Colorado, where the stubborn 416 fire has been burning since June 1, chances of a brief, cool, moist reprise is not likely anytime soon. The 416 fire, 13 miles north of Durango, has burned more than 41,600 acres and was 37 percent contained on Friday.

"The southwestern corner of the state is looking continually dry," said Kyle Fredin, a meteorologist and spokesman with the National Weather Service.

The Spring fire, in Costilla County, has burned more than 28,000 acres and the blaze shut down U.S. 160 on Friday for safety precautions as well as to beef up fire suppression efforts along the highway, using a stretch of asphalt as a containment line. A relatively dry fall and winter in Colorado, especially in southwestern Colorado, has helped to set up tinder box conditions in the state. Combine ongoing summer heat with the dry fuels and wildfires can breakout with the slightest of sparks.

Since Thursday, three additional wildfires broke out in the state: Weston Pass fire, 12 miles southwest of Fairplay, about 1,269 acres; Divide fire, 24 miles northwest of Craig, about 120 acres; Stonemore fire, four miles west of Pueblo, about 137 acres; High Chateau fire, west of Cripple Creek, about 106 acres.

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Colorado is among state leaders nationwide for wildfires currently burning, said Larry Helmerick, spokesman with the Rocky Mountain Coordination Center, which provides fire information for five states.

"This time of year, we get lightning going through areas, and we're going to pick up fires. That is what's happening now," Helmerick said.

Recent fires burning throughout the state have forced evacuations and orders to stand by for evacuations. Some structures have been lost. There have been no reported deaths in the state associated with wildfires this season through Thursday. Health advisories, triggered by the dangers of smoke filled air, have been posted for cities and areas near wildfires, including in Durango and Pueblo.

Aggressive firefighting efforts in Colorado this season have lead to success in terms of structure protection and potential life-saving measures. The Buffalo fire, two miles west of Silverthorne, is 100 percent contained and was limited to 81 acres. The Golf Course fire, in Grand Lake, was about 60 percent contained Friday afternoon and had burned about 20 acres.

Along the northern Colorado border, the Badger Creek fire has burned about 20,800 acres in southern Wyoming. The fire, which started on June 10, is about 80 percent contained.

Fire officials and weather forecasters are hoping for an early and prolonged monsoon in Colorado this year. Long, steady rains will go a long way in helping to curb fires and prevent new outbreaks.

"The monsoon is not here right now, but we're hoping to get through this rough spot right now and the monsoon will come and protect firefighters and the public," Helmerick said.

There are early indications, based on weather patterns developing in the Gulf of Mexico, hinting to the formation of monsoon moisture that could head north and into Colorado.

Without monsoon, the Colorado fire season this year could drag out, much like the 1988 Yellowstone fires which started in June and burned through the summer and fall, until snows stamped them out.

"It's going to be a tough summer, probably, in Colorado and especially the southwest," Fredin said.

Meanwhile, fire officials across the state are bracing for the celebratory fireworks celebrations that salute Independence Day. Fire and police departments in the Denver metro area have posted warnings about illegal fireworks and zero tolerance policies toward violations. Fire bans and restrictions also have been enacted by county sheriff's around the state.

Even professional fireworks displays are being canceled because of continuing fire dangers. Aspen, Breckenridge, Durango, Glenwood Springs and Steamboat Springs are among the cities and towns that have canceled traditional fireworks displays.