Polis urges wildfire vigilance amid milder forecast

Governor cautions against 'false sense of security'


After an onslaught of raging wildfires in Colorado in 2018, this year’s fire season looks to be less severe, but state officials are urging the public not to let its guard down.

“I don’t want it to lure people into a false sense of security,” said Gov. Jared Polis, speaking May 7 at the state’s 2019 wildfire outlook briefing.

The event at Centennial Airport in unincorporated Arapahoe County, just south of Centennial, featured input from public safety officials who noted the wildfire season this year will likely be average to below average.

“Today, we’re looking at 130 to 140 percent of average snowpack,” said Mike Morgan, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. “It appears (this year) will have above-average moisture and below-average temperature.”

Rising population and climate change have caused wildfires and other natural disasters to become more costly, Polis said.

“Fires don’t know jurisdictional boundaries,” Polis said, noting that fires can start on federal land but spread to county or private areas. Officials emphasized the coordination between federal, state and local agencies to respond to blazes.

Out of the 20 largest wildfires in Colorado’s history, five occurred in 2018, a fact sheet from the fire prevention division said. Thirteen happened since 2010, and all 20 occurred since 2000, according to the division.

The 2019 outlook is “considerably better” than at this point in 2018, the division said. Although a repeat of last year’s severity is unlikely, an average year sees more than 6,000 fires that burn more than 100,000 acres on state and private land, with large fires still occurring, according to the division.

In the Denver metro area, mountain communities in west Jefferson County bear risk because fires that start in vegetation can reach homes, Morgan said after his address.

“We’ve been asked if what happened in California can happen in Colorado,” Morgan said, referring to that state’s recent, especially destructive fire season. “The answer is yes.”

Stan Hilkey, executive director of the state Department of Public Safety, joined other officials in a reminder that homeowners should take precaution.

“While we all do our part as emergency responders,” Hilkey said, “individuals need to take proactive steps in preventing wildfires as well.”


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