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Fire danger remains prominent threat into fall

Grass fire
Posted at 9:33 PM, Sep 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-17 00:16:12-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — After one of the busiest and worst fire seasons to hit Colorado, 2019 has been relatively calm for fire activity.

The state has seen a recent spike with the Decker Fire near Salida, the McNay Fire near Fort Collins and the 64A Fire near Bailey, but nothing like the massive fires we endured in 2018, like the Spring Fire in La Veta.

This year's lack of major fire activity during the early months may indicate the the threat could just be starting.

Jim Schanel, deputy fire warden for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, stressed the importance of vigilance this fall, during a time most don't see as fire prone.

"People need to be just as cognizant now, especially with teh cooler nights and they get lackadaisical because of that false sense of security," Schanel said. "You've got to be very careful with that."

A big reason why is tied to fuel moisture. Southern Colorado received good amounts of precipitation during winter and spring, keeping fire danger low during the early parts of the year.

All that did was help grass, shrubs and other vegetation grow taller, giving fires more to burn, Schanel said.

"So now, all that beautiful stuff that grew really well early in the year is now coming back to haunt us in some regard, cause we have a lot more fuel, if you will," Schanel said.

With substantial rain becoming absent from the forecast, experts said now is the time to be careful with fuel sources, especially as our fuels reach toward drier and more dangerous levels.

News 5 Lead Forecaster Mike Daniels said low summer rain levels could heighten fire activity still this year.

"This year, it's really bad, because we've had unusually dry weather June, July, August as well," Daniels said. "And so far this month, we've only had three-tenths of an inch of water, so all the fuel's really drying out around here. We just need a good soak to help things moisten up."

Some government agencies have responded to the uptick in fire danger with action. Teller County officials have enacted a burn ban, though Schanel said it's still too early for El Paso County to do the same.