(CBS4) – With extreme heat expected to last through the week across the state, those monitoring fire danger are bracing for new starts.
“Colorado right now is in a very dry state. Especially the western and the southwestern part of the state, and that’s moving up. It’s moving this way and it’s moving into Wyoming into South Dakota and our projections for the next five days show it will be hot, dry and there will be low humidity, and that’s not a good thing for firefighters,” said Larry Helmerick, Fire Information Coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.
Helmrick has been in his role for 20 years and says 2018 was one of the worst for wildland fires. This year? It’s starting to look similar.
“It’s getting interesting, we like to say, we hope that’s all it does is (be) ‘interesting,’” he said.
The RMCC is responsible for forecasting and coordinating crews for not only Colorado but Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.
“We have 139 units. We’ve had as 6 units in extreme already this year and I’m sure this week that’s going to go up considerably for the next week or two,” said Helmrick.
Each unit is positioned in hotspots around the region. If things get bad, they can call in assistance from other areas. Currently there are two hotshot crews from Montana on standby to help if needed.
With dry conditions increasing and creeping into the Denver metro area, his biggest concern right now?
“Human caused fires. Over 80 percent of our fires on average are human caused.”
He says it has been a busy few days for local and wildland crews.
“That was basically from the fireworks over the holiday weekend and a lot people going out in campgrounds and just not being careful.”
On Monday, a 2 alarm fire at a construction site required the help of wildland firefighters when flames caught nearby brush and jumped the Highline Canal.
“Even different sparks along roadways, anything like that can start a brush fire that can grow to be extremely large and dangerous,” said Connor Wist, Public Information Officer for South Metro Fire Rescue.
Wist was on scene of Monday’s fire. She says it was accidental, caused by the use of flammable liquid on site. The wind and dry conditions caused the blaze to spread quickly.
Helmrick says with dry lightening expected Thursday and Friday, it will take a good monsoon to get moisture levels back to manageable.
“We hope we don’t have weather events that may push a fire beyond what local responders can do.”
If they do, Helmrick says they have agencies across the country standing by, ready to help.
“And that’s how it works in the firefighting community. We’re not in it by ourselves. This is a nationwide effort,” he said.
For more information on the fire weather outlook, visit the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center website.