The Deep Creek Fire in Grand County. (Provided by the Grand County Sheriff's Office)

The summer drought that lingered throughout Colorado has become worse.

The entire state is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions and nearly 17% of the land area is in exceptional drought, the most extreme category, the U.S. Drought Monitor said.

The drought is happening just a year after most of Colorado was declared drought-free.

The western part of the state has been hit the hardest, with Kiowa County on the Eastern Plains also experiencing exceptional drought, which can bring dust storms and cripple agriculture, Colorado Public Radio reported.

Conditions have deteriorated over the past year due to drier conditions, warmer temperatures and a higher level of evaporation. It has also been a perfect backdrop for wildfires.

“That’s exactly why we’re still seeing a high fire danger and still seeing active fires in places,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the U.S. Drought Monitor. “Typically this time of year we’re cooling off and starting to get wetter. That just hasn’t happened yet.”

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There are several active fires in the state, the largest of which is in Larimer County in the north. The Cameron Peak fire has torched more than 200 square miles (518 square kilometers) and is 42% contained. A fire began on Wednesday just south of Kremmling near Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests. The wildfire burned more than 80 acres (32 hectares) in just a few hours, prompting evacuations.

It is the fourth time in two decades — following 2002, 2006 and 2012 — that the entire state has been classified as abnormally dry or in drought.

Tom Renwick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the state could return to pre-2020 figures as long as the winter provides some precipitation.

“If we get a decent winter, and it doesn’t have to be, ‘Oh my God, the most amazing winter ever,’ but a decent winter with a decent amount of snowfall, we’ll get rid of the drought,” Renwick said. “It looks really bad, but you know, I wouldn’t freak out just yet.”

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