COLORADO SPRINGS — It may still be the winter season, but after a historic year for wildfires in our state in 2020 fire officials and members of the U.S. Forest Service are already preparing for what we might see in 2021. News5 has a look back at just how bad the fires were in 2020 and why fire danger this year is already a concern.
One of the common things News5 heard from multiple forest management and fire officials we spoke to is this idea that right now in Colorado "fire season" has become a year-round threat.
News5 Meteorologist Sam Schreier helped to put Colorado's 2020 wildfires into perspective and why we might be set up for another historic year in 2021.
"We had 1,078 fires reported and we had about 625,000 acres burned. If you put all of the areas that burned in 2020 in one spot it would've burned all the way through Colorado Springs, surrounding towns, Fort Carson, and even a little further back into Teller County," Schreier said. "If in 2020 we burned an area as big as the Pikes Peak Region, we know we're already in a drought again. We continued that drought last year and we had all these fires."
Schreier says he has some major concerns about how things are shaping up in 2021.
"Unless some kind of big snow happens in March or April and we're in a La Nina pattern, so that's not overly likely. So we will probably continue this drought again which would mean the forest is going to be set up to be very dry once again," Schreier said.
Those dry conditions coupled with invasive species like bark beetles are killing trees and turn them into more fuel for quick moving and massive wildfires.
News5 spoke with one of the leaders of the Rocky Mountain Regional Office of the United States Forest Service who says on top of natural threats, the growing population in Colorado means more opportunities for mistakes and man-made fires.
"Population increase of course in the front range and those types of areas is really a concern. With the COVID situation from the past year, it did seem to push a lot more people out into the woods and out onto the national forest. Our law enforcement officers had a saying and an observation that every day was like a weekend and weekends were like the 4th of July," said Danny Bryant of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Regional Office.
U.S. Forest Service officials tell News5 work has already started to see what kind of mitigation techniques can be used to try to eliminate some of the dead trees and wildfire fuel that make for such large events.
In response to the historic fires in 2020, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis hopes to make a big investment in wildfire relief, mitigation and prevention. He is budgeting $78 million for the effort.