"The 2010 fire season outlook is better than we've seen in recent years," Ritter said. "Overall, we're looking at average fire potential for the entire Rocky Mountain area."
"We still expect to see short periods of hot dry weather which could wind up supporting large fires," he cautioned.
The 2009 fire season was below average, with the four largest fires burning a little over 3,500 acres.
One issue that will keep firefighters guessing this year will be the continued pine beetle infestation. More than one million acres of lodgepole pine forest have been nearly destroyed by the tiny pest.
Tony Dixon with the U.S. Forest Service says a pine beetle infected forest will undergo three separate stages that could impact how firefighters approach it should there be a fire start within it.
Stage one, a stage quite familiar to Colorado's outdoor enthusiasts, is marked by red-needled pine trees. That stage, says Dixon, is what makes firefighters the most nervous as the trees are extremely dry. The fact that the needles are still on the trees also allows a fire to move quickly from treetop to treetop.
Stage two is marked by barren trunks, something that happens once the needles fall off the trees. A fire will not move as quickly there, but the rotted trees present a "toppling-over" problem.
"What we're not going to do is put our firefighters in harms way," Dixon said.
Stage three is marked by trees lying flat on the ground. It can take more than a decade for an infected tree to finally topple over. The trunks on the ground will provide ample fuel for an intense fire, but the thought is the fire will not be able to move very quickly. Still, a fire in this kind of a forest will present unique challenges to firefighters.
Ritter says a recent $30 million commitment by the U.S. Forest Service to Colorado's forests to help remove beetle kill trees will certainly help the situation.
Fire officials say the one part of the state which could see more activity is northwest Colorado. Forecasters say the area could see a dry summer.
(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)