Hickenlooper lifts burn ban as milder weather cools off wildfire-ravaged Colorado

Gov. John Hickenlooper lifted a statewide fire ban Sunday, saying recent rainfall and milder weather have brought relief to all 64 Colorado counties, but he noted local fire restrictions may still be in effect.

The High Park Fire near Poudre Canyon. (Photo by Colorado National Guard)
“Even though the 2012 wildfire season is far from over and still challenging, we believe conditions are such that local authorities and federal land managers ought to resume control over fire bans in their jurisdictions,” Hickenlooper said in a press release. “Many counties have fire bans in place that will not change as a result of this executive order (pdf).

After an unusually warm, dry winter forced ski resorts to close early, Colorado was primed for fire. A prescribed burn roared out of control near Conifer in March, killing three residents. And when temperatures soared in June, blazes broke out across the state. The High Park Fire near Fort Collins torched 259 homes, quickly becoming the most destructive fire in Colorado history, until another conflagration erupted in Colorado Springs, sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing as almost 350 homes burned down. Fires scorched thousands of acres farther south, near Macos and Pagosa Springs, too and blazes threatened Boulder, Estes Park and several Front Range communities. Lightning triggered some of the fires but others, including the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, are under investigation.

The governor enacted a statewide order June 14 banning campfires, warming fires, charcoal grill fires, fused explosives and private use of fireworks.

Now wetter weather has, at least temporarily, ameliorated the risky conditions. More than 60 counties are forecast to move to moderate or low danger over the next seven days.

“We will continue to monitor the fire danger across the state and re-enact the state-wide ban if necessary as conditions change,” Hickenlooper said.

A few counties in the state continue to experience high fire danger.

At press time, many of the state’s biggest fires were mostly under control with the exception of the Little Sand fire near Pagosa Springs, which was 40 percent contained.

“We encourage Coloradans to be ever vigilant and continue to use extreme safety precautions when using open flames or undertaking any activity that poses a risk of starting a fire,” Hickenlooper said.

While many residents and officials rejoice over the rain, they also understand that the fires have left many regions susceptible to flash floods and mud slides.

Colorado is not the only state that is parched. More of the United States is in moderate drought or worse than at any other time in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor, officials from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said Thursday. Analysis of the latest data showed about 46.84 percent of the country is in various stages of drought. Previous records were 45.87 percent in drought on Aug. 26, 2003, and 45.64 percent on Sept. 10, 2002.

“The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale,” said Michael J. Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “During 2002 and 2003, there were several very significant droughts taking place that had a much greater areal coverage of the more severe and extreme drought categories. Right now we are seeing pockets of more severe drought, but it is spread out over different parts of the country. It’s early in the season, though. The potential development is something we will be watching.”