COLORADO SPRINGS & EL PASO COUNTY – Stage 1 Fire Restrictions have gone into effect Monday, Sept. 13, for Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, and all unincorporated areas of El Paso County.
In Colorado Springs, the restrictions mean that outdoor recreational wood fires and outdoor smoking are banned and equipment like chain saws must have a functioning spark arrestor to be used.
“Really what we’re asking the public to do is be mindful.” said Colorado Springs Fire Department Captain Mike Smaldino, “We’re hoping to be to get out of it as quickly as possible but, its heightened awareness that we need and that’s where everyone comes in.”
The restrictions come after a summer that started out with abundant rainfall without a trace of drought along the Front Range.
In May, rainfall totaled nearly 2 inches above average, progress that was wiped out nearly entirely in August. Typically one of the region’s wettest months, less than a quarter of an inch of rainfall fell during the entire month, nearly three inches of rain below average.
“We’re starting to see that abnormally dry area across eastern El Paso County. I think it’s going to begin to move westward the next couple of weeks due to the fact we haven’t gotten much from Highway 94 [and] south,” said Greg Heavener, the warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Pueblo office.
That trend has dried out much of the fire fuels, like grasses, bushes, and some small trees.
“We call those grasses our light, flashy fuels, but those are also our carrier fuels that get into those bushes and the trees to get those fires bigger,” Smaldino said
CSFD, the NWS and other regional organizations meet weekly to discuss the current conditions and the outlook into the future. A big part in determining fire restrictions is the available moisture that are measured in those fuels.
On June 8, Gambel Oak trees were measuring at 220.3% moisture level in the southern areas of Colorado Springs. On September 8, they measured at 97.9%, what CSFD considers “extreme” risk for fires.
Some other larger fuels are considered to be “high” and “very high” levels, but grasses across the County are dried out and dead, after growing significantly during the wet start to summer.
“That’s a concern. That is where fire is going to start. That’s what’s going to make these fires go from typically what we would see in the beginning of summertime where we see more green, those smaller ones to now, we have the potential for some pretty big fires,” Smaldino said.
It comes as the water tap for Colorado is closing. August and July can be some of the rainiest months in Colorado, thanks to the monsoon, but after that, the reliable moisture comes harder to come by.
“There’s never enough moisture in Colorado. No matter how much we get, we always need more because we go through these quick changes,” Heavener said.