Local Officials Brace for Scary Fire Season

Dangerous Summer Predicted Due to Difficult, Drier Conditions

Trevor Phipps

After the Teller and Ute Pass region got bombarded with huge snowstorms in March and even in early April, many local residents assumed that it would be smooth sailing this summer when it came to drought and wildfire possibilities.

But national experts and local officials, say, “Not so fast.” In fact, they contend that we could be facing a tough and dangerous summer.


Even though the Pikes Peak area received triple the amount of snowpack than it had in late winter, the return to windy and dry days in recent weeks has seriously impacted fire dangers. National weather experts also say that El Nino is on its way out, and La Nina is making her way in this year. This could set the stage for   Colorado to have a hot and dry summer.


According to Jay Teague, the director of Teller County’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Teller could experience a severe fire danger season this summer, despite receiving high levels of moisture in late winter. “With the increased flora growth, we saw last spring from rains and the anticipated growth from moisture received this spring, I expect fires in Teller County to exhibit higher levels of intensity and fire spread,” Teague said. “With models showing a continuing trend of higher temps and a weakening El Niño cycle, the propensity for extreme fire behavior can be expected.”


Teague also said that he has already noticed drier conditions locally after recently testing moisture levels in fuels around the county. “The elevated wind levels experienced lately in Teller already has created a drying trend in our forest fuels,” Teague added. “The foggy mornings have been deceiving, but our fuel sampling program shows the trees and surface fuels have been losing moisture in the high winds.”


Others emergency service officials across the state made similar conclusions, capped by a report conducted by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control and presented to Governor Jared Polis. “Last year’s wet spring on the eastern plains resulted in higher fine fuel growth than usual,” the 2024 Wildfire Preparedness Plan states. “While this was a benefit during the summer last year, it has increased the carry-over that is available to burn leading into the spring green-up period.”


And even though fire dangers are not high enough for Teller County to impose fire restrictions, that could change soon. Many experts say that changes in the atmosphere could create dry and windy conditions in the late spring and early summer seasons.


Goodbye El Nino, Hello La Nina


After La Nina stuck around from 2020 to 2023, many welcomed the moisture last year that came about with the arrival of El Nino. But even though officials hoped for an extended stay by the moister El Nino pattern, that scenario doesn’t appear likely.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center issued an alert in March that La Nina was on its way out sometime between now and June.


According to an article published by Fox 31 Denver, La Nina’s arrival could cause drastic weather changes that are different for various parts of the country. For Colorado and much of the southern parts of the U.S., the arrival of La Nina will mean a hotter and drier summer, followed by a milder winter with less snow. States in the northern part of the country usually experience wetter and colder winters during La Nina.


State officials agree that windy and dry conditions could persist. “For the upcoming summer, there are some indications that El Niño will continue weakening, with typical conditions expected by the late spring,” the wildfire preparedness plan reports. “For April and into the summer months, above average temperatures will continue, and drier weather is expected to spread from west of the Divide out onto the eastern plains. Longer-range forecasts are indicating above average temperatures and below average precipitation for the late summer and fall.”

And even though there has not yet been a fire outbreak in Teller County this year, other parts of southern Colorado, such as Pueblo and El Paso County, have already had wildfire ignite over the past couple of months.


Teller County’s OEM director reiterated the fact that residents should be prepared for the worst especially after learning the weather forecasts for the upcoming months.


“I highly encourage residents to keep grasses cut short, mitigate ladder fuels, and remove any combustible materials near their homes,” OEM Director Teague said. “Most homes are not lost by direct flame contact from a forest fire…they are lost due to flying embers and debris landing in and on vulnerable parts of the structure causing it to catch fire.”