Almost overshadowed by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic is the start of this year's peak wildfire season in Colorado.
Currently burning is the 83-acre #560 fire near Cheesman Reservoir in Jefferson County, believed to be the state's first significant wildfire of 2020. The cause of that fire is unknown but was 100% contained as of Tuesday afternoon.
According to a report released earlier this month by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, authorities expect an average wildfire season, with abnormal to moderate levels of drought -- a rating of 1 and 2 on a scale of 5.
Authorities believe the impact of the coronavirus will limit some firefighting resources and firefighter responses, requiring better planning and communication to protect residents and fire crews.
This week, the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base begins its annual wildfire training. A group of the 60 most experienced Reservists will practice installing the Modular Airborne Firefighting System -- MAFFS equipment -- on two C0-130 planes.
Normally, the 302nd trains in Boise, Idaho with three Air National Guard units from California, Nevada and Wyoming, but the threat of the virus led officials to keep the training of respective units closer to home.
With only a maximum of six Reservists aboard a plane during a mission, officials said health risks are minimal. However, the air crew will wear masks when working in close contact and additional disinfecting measures will be taken on equipment used to load water and retardant into the MAFFS.
Officials said firefighting crews on the ground may face greater health risks because they'll be working closer together where normal protective measures are impractical.
But officials insist that they're taking "significant precautions" to protect fire crews.
A project at the Colorado Springs Airport this season should improve wildfire response in future years. The airport and the U.S. Forest Service are teaming up on a $17 million construction of a regional firefighting base that will improve the ability to load water and retardant onto firefighting aircraft within a 600-mile radius of the city.
The project, which could serve as many as 15 states, is expected to be completed later this year.