Fire Danger: Putting this year in perspective

There’s no doubt that fire danger in the Roaring Fork Valley is high. Today the US Forest Service along with Pitkin and Eagle counties put a fire ban in place. And by now we’ve all seen a Smokey the Bear sign with the words “Very High” or “Extreme” but how serious is the danger? The news isn’t good.

Firefighters and land managers use a measurement called Energy Release Component (ERC) to measure fire risk. ERC is a measure of fuel moisture, incorporating live and dead fuels of different sizes. A larger ERC means higher fire danger. The graph below shows ERC for June 28th in the Roaring Fork Valley each year since 2000.

The only years with a higher ERC are 2002 and 2003 which was an extremely dry period for the region. Colorado’s largest and 4th largest fires occurred in 2002.

Zooming out and looking at the broader landscape tells a similarly bleak story:

Unfortunately, climate change predictions suggest that this could be our new normal, low moisture driven by high temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns. While no one enjoys not being able to have a campfire or fireworks during the Fourth of July it's a small price to pay to keep our forest from looking like this.
Photo of 2002 Hayman Fire. Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hayman_Fire_(2).jpg
For more information about restrictions and general safety visit the Pitkin County emergency management website: http://www.pitkinemergency.org/latest-news.