Report shows Eagle County at normal wildfire risk for most of summer
Good fuel moisture levels, snowpack measurements and expected monsoons indicate lower wildfire risk, though high wind events cause concern
The latest 120-day fire outlook report from the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit shows that Eagle County is currently not at high risk for severe wildfire events in the month of May due to relatively high fuel moisture levels and snowpack measurements.
Each month, the interagency produces a risk analysis that takes into consideration drought levels, temperature, snowpack and wind reports to determine the likelihood of a severe fire event in western Colorado areas. Birch Barron, Eagle County’s director of emergency management, presented the report at the Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday.
“Really what we’re concerned about is what is the risk that those fires will hit fuels or conditions that are dry enough that they become these rapidly expanding fires and grow out of control,” Barron said.
At this time, conditions in Eagle County are significantly less conducive for a severe wildfire event than at the same time last year. Graphs from the National Drought Mitigation Center show that Eagle County is currently experiencing moderate drought conditions, whereas in May of 2021 the county was experiencing large areas of extreme drought and the most severe category, exceptional drought.
“Moderate drought is not something that should make anybody feel amazing, but at least we should know that we have a lot more moisture in the fuels than we did this time last year,” Barron said.
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Barron said that the county has experienced significant greening in the past few weeks, and that the rains anticipated this upcoming weekend will continue improving fuel moisture levels. A measure of snow water equivalent — a measurement that gauges the amount of liquid water contained in snowpack — shows that Eagle County was at 86% of the median measurement as of May 1. Barron said this measurement has increased in the weeks since.
“We’re below median, but not really far below median as we have been in the last couple of years, where we’ve seen a lot of really, really dry fuels out there,” Barron said.
As of now, the primary source of concern for wildfire conditions are the frequent high wind events taking place across the state. A graph from the Boulder National Weather Service shows that the area has experienced the second highest number of high wind events in this time period since 2005. Barron said that data tracking high wind events in Eagle County is already out of date due to how many events have occurred in the past two weeks alone.
“This year has absolutely been an example of wind-driven fire events, both in our own Duck Pond Fire, as well as other fires that have started out in Colorado Springs,” Barron said.
Taking all of this information into consideration, the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit has determined that Eagle County is at normal significant fire potential for the month of May, predicts that it will be at above normal significant fire potential for the month of June, and that it will return to normal significant fire potential in the months of July and August due to models that predict an early monsoon season.
“Take that with the grain of salt that you always take weather forecasts, but at least right now the focus is on June, when we start to see these fuels dry out and that warmer temperature comes in,” Barron said.
The Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit releases an updated 120-day fire outlook report every month.