Wildand Fire- A Potential Outlook For 2014


Even with warm temperatures and snowmelt in full effect around Summit County, wildfires seemed unlikely in May.  When you add on an above normal snowpack and a record like year for snow one would tend to think we were out of the window of worry.  Mother Nature proved us wrong again, but in the grand scope of things, she usually does.  Enough snow has melted in many areas of the county and dry enough conditions accompanied with down and dead fuels proved to be the right conditions north of Silverthorne for the Mt Powell Ranch Fire on May 5, 2014.  The Front Range has seen wildfire season start in April with a few small brush fires and continued red flag warnings beginning to pop up around the state.  Much of the state and county were in a severe drought last year and many parts of the state still remain in one.  Many of the grasses and vegetation from last year’s precipitation are now cured (drying and browning of vegetation, or dead fuels).


According to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise Idaho, the Climate Prediction Center forecasts average to below normal temperatures with an active weather pattern through May in the Rocky Mountain region. Southwestern Colorado and the eastern plains may have above normal significant wildfire potential if drought and dry windy conditions persist.


 With the potential for normal temperatures and lighter precipitation in June, forecasters may expect pre-green up grasses and shrubs to cure quickly causing potentially higher fire danger.  That being said, the ERC (Energy Release Components) will most likely be higher in many areas.  The ERC is a number that corresponds to the available energy (BTU) per square foot.  This number directly relates to the fire’s potential intensity by calculating the index of live and dead fuel moistures.  As live fuels cure and dead fuels dry, the ERC increases.


The Rocky Mountain fire season generally gets going between the end of May and early June, but is potentially expected to start later with snowpack being above average.  As we have already seen, fire potential is always a factor in the high country and we should all be prepared for the next wildfire.  Snowpack and the fine dead fuel moisture associated with the type of fuels and climate play a large role in the fire season and potential fire outlooks.  Fuel moisture refers to the relationship of the percentage of water (moisture) and the probability of that fuel being able to ignite.  South facing slopes receive more sun and are more exposed targeting them for earlier and more often fire potential due to warmer temperatures and drier fuels.  North facing slopes have more fuel loading, which can create higher intense fire potential, but receive less sun and their fuel moisture content is generally higher.  With more than 15 years of the pine beetle epidemic in our forests, it has now created over 3.4 million acres of infected, dead or down trees boosting Summit County’s fire potential to high.  Adding the spruce beetle to the mix and their 1.1 million acres of infestation, our county now has 4.5 million acres of dead and down fuel in the forest.


The Copper Mountain Fire Department responds to all wildfires within their jurisdiction at any time of the year.  They also help the surrounding counties and departments within Summit County by responding to all mutual aid calls.  All personnel are trained in various disciplines of wildland firefighting and are red carded each year.  A red card is a work capacity test used for all wildland firefighters as a yearly physical test.  Once a firefighter passes the 3 mile walk wearing a 45 lb. pack in under 45 minutes, they are qualified to work on incidents for that year (season).  CMFD crews begin wildland training in April and May to gear up for the summer months. 



The Copper Mountain Fire Department utilizes the following equipment to respond to wildland fires.  One Type VII 4-wheel drive engine with the capacity of a 70 gallon tank, one Type I 4-wheel drive engine that can be used for urban interface which has a 500 gallon tank and as of mid-April 2013 one Type VI Wildland engine with a 250 gallon tank.   All the engines have the capability to flow foam for class A type fires. 


The CMFD has been working on getting this new Type VI engine (Wildland 1) for some time now.  The addition of this new engine will better prepare the CMFD for response in and out of our county.  It will also allow the CMFD Wildland team to deploy to fire incidents nationwide this summer as it did last summer. The CMFD Wildland program and awareness levels have grown significantly over the last few years better preparing them for the evolving future of wildland fire in our county.  Copper Mountain Fire sent a Type 1 Engine to the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park in December 2012 for a week. The new Type VI responded to several fires in Colorado and Nevada last year, including the Black Forest Fire.  Duties on these fire included assisting in the management of the wildfire, tree mitigation, preparing fire breaks, structural triage for the communities of Estes Park & the Black Forest residents, calling in air support and direct fire attack. These assignments provide our personnel with invaluable experience which overall makes them and our department better prepared to protect our community.


For more information on wildfire information please visit the following websites:






Written by,

Shanin Theiss

CMFD Firefighter/EMT-B


Fern Lake Fire RMNP- Air Support



12/2/12- Engine 813 Is dispatched to the Fern Lake Fire at Rocky Mountain National Park with a crew of four.

12/7/12- Engine 813 is demobilized from the Fern Lake Fire and returns home.

6/12/13- WIldland 1 is dispatched to the Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs with a crew of three.

6/14/13- CMFD sent one member with the N.W. Incident Management Team to the Ward Gulch Fire outside Rifle, Co.

6/18/13- Wildland 1 is demobilized from the Black Forest Fire.

6/18/13- Wildland is deployed to the Wild rose Fire outside Rangely, Co with a crew of three.

Links & Information


    Latest Detected Fire Activity


 Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit



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