COLORADO SPRINGS — A short break from Red Flag Warning conditions offered a window for Colorado Springs Fire Department recruits to go out for wildfire skills training in the field. “There’s no question whether it’s useful information or useful skills to have,” said CSFD recruit, Max Wechsung.
There are 30 Colorado Springs Fire Department Recruits. “It’s definitely a skill that we’re going to use often,” said recruit, Sterling Watson. Their scheduled classroom and wildfire skills training ended up during a week with day after day of wildfires happening in Southern Colorado.
“A bit different energy level and we’ve been talking already this morning about several [wildfire] incidents, the incident in La Junta,” said Wildland Field Instructor, Captain Steve Oswald. The current surge of wildfire adds real life scenarios to lesson plans.
The recruits have spent the early part of the week in the classroom getting instruction on wildland firefighting skills. A break from the unusual string of high wind/low humidity days causing Red Flag Warnings, allowed practical training in the field to occur late in the week. Only, instructors who are also on duty had to remain on alert. “We’re really paying attention” said Oswald, “We may have to pull those of us that are on the line, off to get to an incident if that occurs.”
The Red Flag winds contributed to many cities and counties in the area enacting burn restrictions. “We've been in an unusual stretch right now because typically Red Flag conditions are a day by day issue, but over the last two weeks we've been in Red Flag pretty consistent,” said Colorado Springs Fire Marshal, Brett Lacey.
Lacey points out that the unusual Red Flag conditions may have contributed to the decision to enact restrictions, but they are not the reason for them. A Red Flag Warning is a day to day warning system when wind and low humidity are predicted. Often the danger will subside overnight when humidity recovers and wind subsides. The need for the caution is a decision made day to day
Fire restrictions are the result of a long-term equation. It looks at how much moisture is in the ground, how much is in plants, and the outlook for temperatures and humidity over weeks and months. “Right now the measurements we've been taking, coupled with the predictions of on-going weather patterns, and the lack of snowfall or rainfall that we've been getting, thats what's driving us now into these burn restrictions,” said Lacey. Red Flag Warnings will go away when wind ends, but restrictions will continue until significant rain brings moisture back in vegetation.
During the spring when plants come out of winter dormancy, the “green-up” usually eases fire concerns. This year it could be short because most of April has been drier than normal. “The vegetation is going to pull whatever residual moisture in the soils to be able to sprout, to be able to green-up a little but it's not going to leave much in the soils to maintain that good moisture content in the plants,” said Lacey.
“Regrettably we're probably going to be in burn restrictions for an extended period of time.” A lot more rain between now and summer has to come to avoid a worst case scenario Lacey would rather avoid. “I fear that we're going to be moving to very dry fuels, which could potentially get us into a burn ban condition.”