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Hickenlooper: Caution Still Needed To Prevent Fires

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Gov. John Hickenlooper at the High Park Fire command post in June 2012. (credit: CBS)

Gov. John Hickenlooper at the High Park Fire command post in June 2012. (credit: CBS)

GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP/CBS4) – Gov. John Hickenlooper is urging Coloradans to remain cautious and prevent wildfires despite recent snow and rain.

Hickenlooper said Thursday that the danger of wildfires starting and spreading isn’t as bad as last year but he doesn’t want people to let their guard down.

“I don’t think we’re going to see what we saw in 2012 or 2002, thank God,” Hickenlooper said at his annual wildfire briefing with state and federal officials at Centennial Airport. He was joined by representatives of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

The governor spoke at his annual briefing with state and federal officials on the wildfire outlook at Centennial Airport.

Last year by this time, one major wildfire had already claimed three lives after a state prescribed burn sparked a wildfire in the Jefferson County foothills following the driest March on record in the Denver area. Three other people were also killed and around 650 houses destroyed during the lingering fire season. A wildfire burned through the winter in Rocky Mountain National Park. The state also experienced a bad fire season in 2002.

“Last year was the fire season from Hades. The fire season that wouldn’t end this year. This year we expect an average to and in Southern Colorado a slightly above average fire season,” said Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control spokesman Paul Cooke.

While a wet spring has helped ease the threat in the northern and central mountains and the populated Front Range foothills, all parts of the state are still in some degree of drought.

Things are the worst in southeastern Colorado. Drought conditions over the past two years there have not only raised the fire danger but have led to failed or reduced crops and cattle loss and abandonment.

The Forest Service warned that the outlook is for a drier and warmer than average May and June, and Hickenlooper emphasized that residents need to understand that fires are still a very real risk, even with the recent rains.

“You get lulled into a sense of security when you have a couple weeks of rain,” he said.

Officials also highlighted the state and federal resources available to help with Colorado’s firefighting efforts. State vehicles are dispersed across Colorado and are available to local firefighters, and the Forest Service has 32 wildland fire engines, 308 firefighters and nine helicopters available in Colorado. A number of large air tankers are also being pre-positioned in areas of the highest potential need.

Despite the joint preparedness efforts, Hickenlooper said better integration is still needed between local, state and federal officials. He said last year there were instances when it took too long to figure out what resources were available, and he hopes to see some movement toward a singular database and communication system detailing all private, state and federal firefighting assets.

Wildfire Resources

- Visit CBSDenver.com’s Wildfire Resources section.

- Read recent Wildfire stories.

Wildfire Photo Galleries

- See images from the most destructive wildfires (Waldo Canyon, High Park and Fourmile) and largest wildfire (Hayman) in Colorado history.

This report includes contributions from Alexandra Tilsley, AP Writer (TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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