Owens bans open fires on some state land amid growing threat | SummitDaily.com

Owens bans open fires on some state land amid growing threat

AP Photo Firefighting trucks head up the Mauricio Valley Road near Aguilar Monday, near the site of a 5,000-acre wildfire. A six-inch snowfall overnight slowed the advance of the Mauricio firea but state fire officials activated its fire Web site Monday, Jan. 9, about three months earlier than usual due to unseasonably warm and dry weather.

DENVER – Gov. Bill Owens banned open fires on thousands of acres of state land Monday after warm, dry weather left parts of Colorado vulnerable to big wildfires months earlier than normal.The governor urged county commissioners to also consider bans after two weekend wildfires blackened thousands of acres and destroyed three houses while threatening hundreds more.Owens’ action covers all state-owned land below 8,000 feet elevation.”As far as the fire danger is concerned, this is not January. This is July,” Owens said.

About 40 residents of Aguilar were evacuated on Sunday when a fire neared the outskirts of the town about 160 miles south of Denver. Authorities first said five homes were destroyed but later revised that to three.About 6 inches of snow fell by midday Monday, dampening the flames but keeping most firefighters off the lines because of treacherous roads. About a dozen residents had been allowed to go home.Authorities said the 5,000-acre fire was human-caused but offered no details. It was 5 percent contained.Owens declared a disaster emergency in Las Animas and Huerfano counties, where the fire was burning, making them eligible for state aid. He said he will propose setting aside $2 million to $3 million a year for firefighting in his State of the State address Thursday.A 300-acre fire threatened homes and forced evacuations near Carter Lake in northern Colorado but was brought under control early Monday, allowing residents to return home.

January wildfires aren’t uncommon, but the two weekend fires were unusually big, said Denise Adamic of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, which organizes firefighting resources in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and Kansas.”There’s been no significant precipitation since the first of October” in Colorado, Adamic said. “The extended outlook is for above-normal temperatures, above-normal wind and below-normal moisture.”Randy Eardley, a spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said the fire danger forecast for the Mountain West was normal through the end of January but longer-range fire forecasts have not been completed.Klaus Wolter, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, said a weak La Nina weather pattern could be responsible for keeping the Colorado’s Eastern Plains and Front Range dry, at least for the short term.La Nina occurs when temperature changes in the Pacific Ocean push moisture-bearing storms north, sometimes into Canada.

“If La Nina solidifies, that would be bad news for spring, but it’s a bit too early to get all worked up about that,” Wolter said.Storms crossing the mountains could drop some snow on the plains if they slow or stall, Wolter said.In another sign of early-season concern, the Colorado Division of Emergency Management activated the fire page of its Web site Monday, about three months earlier than usual.”We have our preseason fire meeting in April. That’s usually when we get our fire Web site up,” division spokeswoman Polly White said.

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