Federal wildland fire forecasters have issued their summer outlook with a series of maps, showing ominous splotches of red that indicate above-normal fire potential expanding over much of the Mountain West.
For May, red covers almost all of New Mexico and about two-thirds of Colorado. June sees the red swath spreading in southern Nevada, Utah, northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana. As summer wears on, elevated risk of significant fires moves into the Northern Rockies.
The National Interagency Fire Center’s Predictive Services on Sunday published four maps as part of its monthly wildland fire outlook, projecting how severe drought and many other factors will play out across the West as fires ramp up.
Jim Wallmann is a meteorologist with the NIFC and the National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise. He says he hopes the maps help fire managers use their resources.
“In the Southwest, May and June are typically their peak fire seasons,” Wallmann said. “So when we have it highlighted in red that means it could be significantly above normal — a very active fire season for them.”
That normal is based on 20 years of fire history for that time and place. He says it’s all relative.
As snow melts and the monsoon begins, the risk moves north throughout the Mountain West. Maps for June, July and August show Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho turning red. And for eastern Colorado, the risk remains above-normal the whole season.
“That’s not normal,” Wallmann said. “Eastern Colorado and really a lot of the high plains, last year they saw a significant grass crop during the spring to early summer and then it’s been really dry since then.”
That dry grass is now fuel for fires. The 2021 monsoon did the same for southern New Mexico, Utah and Nevada, fueling their current above-normal fire potential.
Wallmann predicts another good monsoon this year for the Southwest, but that tends to mean it’ll be drier than normal over the Plains, continuing the risk of wildland fires.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.