Despite Recent Bombardment of Snow Storms, Teller County Still Grappling With Fire Dangers

THIRD DAY OF MARCH BLIZZARD--3-20-2002--Neal Nixon of Coal Creek digs a pathway to his car near the intersection of Colorado Highway 72 and Twin Spruce Rd. in Coal Creek Canyon Thursday. Nixon was trying to free up his Kia Sephia sedan which was totally buried under snow so he could take his mother, Lori, to her wedding in Las Vegas on Saturday. "She's pretty freaked out," admits Nixon. POST STAFF PHOTO BY GLENN ASAKAWA (Photo By Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Emergency Management Director:  Area Needs 22 Weekends of Moisture

Trevor Phipps

Teller County recently got hit with one of the biggest snowstorms it has experienced in recent years, but officials say the area is still far removed from future fire dangers.

The unusual storm avoided areas like the southern part of El Paso County, but then bombarded the Ute Pass region and the northern part of the state.

 Then, to top matter off for a storm-plagued March, early last week it snowed virtually every day, with the biggest daily totals rising to about eight inches. So far, the area has had a good March for snowfall with around four-feet in total.

 Official snow totals during the storm on March 14 in Woodland Park were 27 inches. But, people west and north of town, saw more than two and a half feet.

 The heavy snow shuttered most businesses during the storm and caused schools to be closed the following Monday. Travel in the region became very difficult as roads were icy and snow packed for most of the weekend into Monday.

 Local road crews worked around the clock to keep the roads clear, but at times it just came down too fast. Snow would quickly recover areas that had already been plowed.

 Several motorists got stuck on the side of the road, which resulted in their cars getting buried. Others chose not to travel, and they were stuck in town overnight.

 According to Teller County’s Office of Emergency Management Director Don Angell, the local road crews worked hard to keep the roads open during the storm. “We worked well with public works, the sheriff’s department, the county administrator, and OEM,” Angell said. “We had a plan in place and we implemented that plan.”

 He said that the county’s primary and secondary routes were kept open during the storm and the tertiary routes were plowed on Monday. The crews had all of the roads cleared in the county within 24 hours of the storm striking.

 Angell also said that the county spent a lot of time helping people that were stuck and stranded. “We helped people out of the snow that were stuck and blocking traffic,” Angell said. “That’s one of the big concerns we always have is the impacts to traffic when people slide off or go into the ditch or don’t park in their own driveways.”

Angell also said that due to the county’s infrastructure, there were no power outages locally. Some counties in northern Colorado did report power outages as a result of the storm.

Last week, the storms did not affect the area as bad because the snowfall came much more slowly. The road crews were able to keep the main highways clear for most of the week.

Angell said that the general rule for big storms nationwide is that people should prepare to be stuck at home for 72 hours. But Angell said that he tells people in rural America, they should be prepared for 96 hours.

Recent Snows May Ease Drought Conditions: Threat Still Remains

With all of the snow the area has seen recently, many residents and emergency responders hope that it will help suppress the potential wildfire threats this summer. However, it is still too soon to tell because Colorado is still in a drought statewide, and there is a lot of catching up to do, according to emergency officials.

“It’s way too early to tell what the moisture content is in the trees, shrubs, and combustible materials for a fire,” Angell explained. “It’s a nice temporary feeling of moisture, but we are so behind in the drought monitoring. Other areas of the state have received decent amount of snow. But here in Teller and parts of Park County, we haven’t received the amount of snow that some of our neighbors have. Snow on the ground looks good today and it helps this week but we will see how this continues to play out as far as moisture content and the uptake of the moisture into the trees.”

On the bad side, some residents still fear about an extended dry spell over the next few months. “We are going to get the light fuels to grow quickly because they have moisture,” Angell said. “If we start getting April, May and June without much moisture, these lighter fuels will definitely present a greater hazard. Because that’s what is going to propagate a faster moving fire.”

Angell said that he is hoping that the area will continue to get a lot of moisture over the next few months. “I’m hoping for snow this weekend and the next 22 weekends in a row, but my dreams won’t come true,” the emergency management director said. “This last snow was very good to see. The moisture content in the snow was good. But we have to be concerned with what the moisture uptake in the trees is really going to be in the next few weeks to a month.”