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Wildfires ramp up in the southwest, bringing smoke to Colorado

wildfire smoke map
Posted at 1:36 PM, Jun 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-09 20:54:42-04

Wildfire season has kick-started in the southwest and smoke has drifted into Colorado.

The Mescal and Telegraph fires west of Phoenix, Arizona sparked in the first week of June and have both burned over 70,000 acres. Several more, smaller fires have recently been burning in southwest New Mexico and central Utah.

And new this week, the Dragon Fire started in Rio Blanco County in Colorado, which has burned over 300 acres.

The smoke from these fires has left a light haze across Colorado since Tuesday and is most apparent in the west and southern areas of the state and within mountain valleys.

Residents of Teller county received cell phone alerts about wildfire smoke in the area on Tuesday, June 8th, and were assured it was NOT from a local fire. The Teller County Sheriff's office also alerted this on Twitter.

The reason why we are seeing this smoke is because of an area of high pressure in the atmosphere located to our south, over New Mexico. Air flows clockwise around high pressure, which is transporting smoke from the southwest into Colorado. Also, air sinks under high pressure which will trap smoke, dirt, ozone, etc. at the surface.

Red flag warnings indicate weather conditions that are conducive to rapid wildfire growth, including low humidity, gusty winds, and dry soil/fuels. Red flag warnings are in place for western Colorado, Utah, and Nevada through June 10th and likely will be extended into Friday, June 11th.

It is in the western US that fuels are extremely dry and exceptional drought conditions plague the region. So, any hot and gusty day is prone to fire weather conditions.

The entire state of Colorado is feeling the heat this week with temperatures expected to soar into the 90s and a few 100s on Thursday.

The reason why eastern Colorado isn't under red flag warnings? Moisture. Spring rain has left the soil and fuel moisture high. Despite the dry air mass in place this week, the ground is still holding onto the moisture for now.

The haze in the sky, however, is a reminder that wildfires are on the horizon. This summer is expected to be hotter and drier than normal. The recent wet weather has allowed grasses and vegetation to flourish. If and when the vegetation dries out, it could increase fuel load for late-summer fires.

According to the National Park Service, about 85% of wildfires are caused by humans, and officials are predicting increased tourism in Colorado as the pandemic winds down, as well as continued population growth in the years to come. This is where we come in. Fire prevention and mitigation are key. Find out more information on what you can do now to reduce your wildfire risk here.

In 2018, the Colorado State Forest Service said about half of all Coloradans live in areas at risk for wildfires, and 2.9 million live in wildland-urban interface areas, a number that continues to rise. Don't know if this includes you? Find out here.

While we are sitting in greener pastures, for now, it is a good idea to prepare for future fires. Consider mitigating your home now and assessing your evacuation plan with your family.