Late snowfall lessens risk of wildfires |

Late snowfall lessens risk of wildfires

Officials say danger could change quickly with weather patterns

Brandon Gee

Fire consumes lodgepole pines in late July 2008 in the Bridger-Teton National Forest near Pinedale, Wyo. The National Interagency Fire Center is reporting "normal significant fire potential" in the Rocky Mountain region for April through July.

— March and April snowstorms have left the regional snowpack in good shape approaching wildfire season, but the gathering impact of the mountain pine beetle epidemic still has forest officials on the edge of their seats.

The National Interagency Fire Center is reporting “normal significant fire potential” in the Rocky Mountain region for April through July. The center’s prognosis notes that “a significant snow storm during the last full week of March provided much-needed precipitation to Colorado.”

As of Friday, the average basin-wide snow water equivalent for the Yampa and White rivers basin was 103 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. District Forester John Twitchell, of the Colorado State Forest Service, said snowpack is an important consideration when measuring wildfire risk.

“It’s a huge factor because it affects ground moisture,” he said. “The majority of our year’s supply comes from snow. : Having moisture in the ground : for the trees to call on is pretty critical.”

Twitchell stressed, however, that longterm wildland fire forecasts are tenuous because of the speed with which conditions can change.

“It’s very hard to predict, because it’s so dependent on the conditions of the last two weeks,” Twitchell said. “Fire danger comes largely from lighter fuels and how dry they are.”

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U.S. Forest Service Fire Management Officer Mark Cahur agreed and noted the precarious situation created by the mountain pine beetle epidemic.

The mountain pine beetle killed more trees in Routt County than anywhere else in Colorado in recent years, leaving behind a worrying glut of dry fuel. Of the 1.16 million affected acres across the state, 245,000 are in Routt County, according to aerial research conducted in 2008 by the U.S. and Colorado forest services.

“I would say we’re looking at an average fire season right now,” Cahur said. “It really boils down to what it’s looking like in July through September. : The fuels are ready. The state of the vegetation with the beetles have made the fuels very prone to fire, and now it’s just going to be up to the weather.”

By the numbers

Acres affected by mountain pine beetle in Routt and surrounding counties

County; 2008; 1996-2008

Eagle; 75,680; 159,860

Garfield; 5,210; 7,160

Grand; 208,210; 552,570

Jackson; 234,620; 353,800

Moffat; 9,700; 11,100

Rio Blanco; 18,000; 25,130

Routt; 245,290; 310,520

How to report a wildfire

What you should know:

– Your name and the phone number from which you are calling.

– Location of the fire. Use geographic names or street address numbers.

– Owner of the property.

– What is the fire burning in? Trees, brush, grass or other.

– What color is the smoke? White, gray, brown, blue, black or unknown.

– How big is the fire? The size of a campfire, house, baseball field, etc.

– Weather and wind at the fire location.

– Are any lives or homes, buildings, campgrounds or other structures threatened?

– How fast is the fire spreading? As fast as you can walk, run or unknown.

– Is anyone fighting the fire? Forest Service crews, fire departments, neighbors, passers-by.

Source: Northwest Colorado Forest Health Guide, 2008

On the ‘Net

– To read the federal and state forest services’ 2008 forest health highlights, visit http://www.steamboatpilo…. Additional mountain pine beetle information can be found here.

– To read the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s award-winning, five-part series on the beetle epidemic, visit