Friday, May 9, 2008


A warm, windy summer could mean more wildfires for Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter announced at his annual wildfire briefing today
Conditions on the Eastern Plains and in northwest Colorado may contribute to higher-than-average wildfire activity. Fire experts also are concerned about the foothills and lower elevations east of the Continental Divide due to the abundance of dead, dry grass produced by the wet winter of 2006/2007. The recent dry weather in western Colorado also has them on alert.
During his briefing, the governor outlined the state's firefighting resources — from aircraft to fire trucks designed specifically to tackle Colorado's terrain — and he asked Coloradans to exercise responsibility to help prevent wildfires.
"Whether it's a ditch burn or a campfire, fires need to be out cold so that embers don't rekindle with the next big wind," said Ritter.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation determined that a rekindled fire started the Ordway Fire last month. That fire led to two firefighter deaths and burned 22 homes and 8,900 acres. Another wildfire in April claimed the life of a pilot who died when the firefighting plane he was flying crashed after dropping a load of fire retardant.
"Regardless of what is burning or how many acres are going up in smoke, nothing is more tragic than loss of life," the governor said.
While other western states experienced record fire seasons in 2007, Colorado had a below-average year in terms of burned acres reported. In 2007, 26,535 acres were reported as burned in Colorado, or about one-fifth of the 10-year average. The average number of burned acres reported over the past 10 years was 130,465 acres. 
Despite the lower number of burned acres reported in 2007, officials are urging citizens not to become complacent, as firefighting across the West has become increasingly complex. More homes in the woods and on the plains raise the stakes, putting firefighters in greater danger. Already this year, state and federal agencies report that 26,052 acres have burned in Colorado, almost as many acres as were reported in all of 2007.
Jeff Jahnke, state forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service, encouraged people to reduce fire hazards around their homes. "Even simple things like cleaning gutters and removing brush and debris can make it safer for firefighters and for your home," he said. "Wildfire is a fact of life in Colorado, and we owe it to ourselves — and firefighters — to be prepared, be careful and to do our part to reduce the hazards."