With the fire season approaching, citizens of Durango can expect a much less impactful fire season compared to last year.
Throughout the calendar year in Colorado, there is an accumulation of water during the winter followed by a series of drier months throughout the spring and summer, said Jon Harvey, assistant professor of geoscience at Fort Lewis. May and June are the driest out of all of the summer months, making them the official fire season in Southern Colorado, he said.
During the year, the region sees both wet and dry months as the the winter snowpack melts, Harvey said. Then the melting of the snowpack and increased runoff of precipitation leads to a green spring, he said.
“As we approach June, late June especially, that’s two months where we don’t get much precipitation,” Harvey said. “The winter storms have moved back North, and we’re kind of in this subtropical high, which is a band of atmospheric conditions that prevents rain from falling.”
These conditions compounded with an exceptionally dry winter, is what made last year’s fire season so impactful and pronounced, Harvey said.
This year however, due to the large snowpack, we can expect an extremely green spring, with the mountains and valleys in the San Juan National Forest holding water throughout this annual dry season, said Brad Pietruszka, the Fuels Program Manager for the National Forest Service in Durango. The Fuels Program manager is responsible for prescribed fires and mechanical fuels reduction in the San Juans he said.
“It’s radically different from where we were last year,” said Pietruszka.
The National Forestry Service expects to do a lot more prescribed fires, or controlled burning of fuel, and hopes to let some of the natural fires run their course, like it would have before humans decided to settle in these mountains, Pietruszka said.
With the wetter conditions this year it will be much easier to control any fires that happen to come close to any homes, Pietruszka said. But historically the San Juan National Forest would burn approximately 54,000 acres a year naturally, so the Forestry Service hopes to keep that cycle going with prescribed burns, allowing the natural cycle to resume its course, he said.