Here’s what winter storms mean for fire season in the Four Corners

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IGNACIO, Colo. — Depending on where you live, you might be having a wetter winter than normal. And with fire season around the corner – does that mean fewer fires? Well, the answer might seem like an obvious yes, but it is a little more complicated than that.

For six years, the Four Corners Wildfire Academy has been gathering in Ignacio, Colorado.

“This is where a bunch of fire departments state agencies and federal agencies come together for instruction,” said Scott Nielsen, Wildfire Battalion chief for the Durango Fire Protection District.

With all the moisture in the Four Corners this winter, the fire season could be off to a good start. 

“There will be a lot more moisture in the live fuels, so that will help hamper fire more so than we have seen in the last couple summers, but we’re not out of the woods, yet,” Nielsen said.

However, more precipitation also grows fuel for fires.

“All this moisture means all that grass is going to grow again,” Nielson added. “Around the Durango area all this snow has killed a lot of oak brushes, just smashed it from the weight of the snow so there is going to be a lot more dead and down stuff stuck in the forests and in the brush this year.”

More dead stuff on the ground isn’t ideal when it comes to fires.

“Grass, small needles, stuff like that really carries fire but once you get larger fuels on the ground that leads to larger fires and a fast way to spread,” Nielsen said.

What really determines if those added fuels will be a problem or not, is the weather over the next couple of months.

“This part of the country can get really hot, really windy – quickly. And that wind can evaporate the snow and melt the snow and take the moisture out of a lot of the fuels,” Nielson said. “This is a great start with all the moisture we had but we have to hopefully have a good spring.”

Nielsen added they have increased their dedicated wildland firefighter crew. With a potentially slower fire season, they can do a lot more mitigation work.