DENVER (AP) — Western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming have the greatest risk for wildfires in the region this year, but a wet winter and spring should delay the fire season until June, federal land managers said Wednesday.
Fallen timber and live trees suffering from years of drought put those areas at risk, the Bureau of Land Management said in its annual report on the wildfire outlook for Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Late winter snow and a wet spring returned the green to the grass and shrubs in forests, delaying the risk of wildfires in Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota until at least June.
"Last year we had pretty much nothing for a green-up," said fire meteorologist Russ Mann, who helped compile the report.
Once grass and shrubs begin drying out, the largest area with the highest wildfire potential stretches from Cortez and Durango in southwestern Colorado to an area near the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.
Other areas with the high potential include parts of Colorado's northern Front Range and southeastern Wyoming, as well as South Dakota's Black Hills.
Last year, 82 percent of the large wildfires in the region were started by people, Mann said. That includes the Hayman fire southwest of Denver, the worst in Colorado history, which scorched 138,000 acres and destroyed 132 homes.
"Hopefully our human population will be a little more caring and cautious when they're in the forest," BLM spokesman Larry Helmerick said.
Last year, wildfires started in the region in April and May and were followed by some of the biggest blazes in the region's history.
Besides the Hayman fire, the Missionary Ridge, Coal Seam and Iron Mountain fires destroyed hundreds of homes across Colorado.
By this time last year, several fires in the region scorched 60,000 acres and destroyed 25 structures, Helmerick said.
This year, wildfires have burned across 900 acres, and no structures have been destroyed, Helmerick said.
"It's going to be above normal in intensity but for a much shorter duration than it was last year," Mann said.
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