Déjà Vu Fire Season Off To A Roaring Start In Colorado

Smoke covers the Black Forest area. (Photo By Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

In Colorado, the fire season is starting to look ominously like a repeat of 2012 and a continuation of big fire years in the West. That matches models predicting climate change will usher in an era of massive, destructive wildfires.

On Monday, Denver set a new record for the earliest date to ever hit 100 degrees. In addition to the heat wave, high winds and low humidity have stoked a series of wildfires along the state’s heavily populated Front Range. Since erupting Tuesday, the fires have already destroyed scores of homes and forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents as federal firefighters and air tankers were rushed to the state.

The most destructive and worrisome fire broke out north of Colorado Springs, where last year the Waldo Canyon Fire — the worst in state history — consumed 346 homes and caused $353 million in damage. The Black Forest Fire broke out shortly after noon Tuesday, and had burned about 8,000 acres by this morning, damaging or destroying at least 100 homes and forcing the evacuation of about 2,500 homes and businesses, encompassing more than 7,000 people across a 24,000 acre area.

To the south, near Cañon City, the 3,800-acre Royal Gorge fire is threatening a popular tourist attraction, the Royal Gorge Bridge over the Arkansas River, and has prompted state corrections officials to evacuate about 800 prisoners from a prison facility.

Other smaller fires were burning in Rocky Mountain National Park and in southern Colorado.

Federal assets were being deployed, including a heavy air tanker based in Albuquerque, and helicopters from military bases in Colorado including Fort Carson outside of Colorado Springs.

The past decade has seen a sharp increase in the number of acres burned by wildfires. In 2012, 2007 and 2008 more than 9 million acres were burned, and the half dozen worst fire years since 1960 have taken place since 2000. A recent Department of Agriculture report predicts that the acreage burned by wildfires will double by 2050 to about 20 million acres annually.

The report’s findings are in line with previous studies on climate change’s relation to fire risk: a 2012 study found that wildfire burn season is two and a half months longer than it was 40 years ago, and that for every one degree Celsius temperature increase the earth experiences, the area burned in the western U.S. could quadruple.

At a briefing this morning on the Black Forest Fire, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the blaze was at zero percent containment. “It’s still a very hot and active fire area,” he said, adding that a federal firefighting incident command team would take charge of the fire today.

11 Responses to Déjà Vu Fire Season Off To A Roaring Start In Colorado

  1. M Tucker says:

    The weather extremes and drought in Colorado have been in the local news for the past couple of days but it always takes something dramatic to get widespread attention. If you want to know what is happening you have to look for it.

    Denver Post 6/9/13
    Massive dust storms hit southeast Colorado, evoking “Dirty Thirties” – The Denver Post

    “…a punishing dust storm slammed into Hixson Farms at full force, trapping Hixson and her husband, Dave Tzilkowski, in their home for 15 hours to kick off the Memorial Day weekend.

    The storm was the worst of seven that have scoured the farm since November, Hixson said.

    “We had periods of blowing soils in the 1970s that required tractor work,” Tzilkowski said. “But this is ridiculous. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

    Dirt is almost all that people can talk about these days in communities along U.S. 50 and 287.

    It’s the inevitable result of three seasons of extreme drought in the area — D4 this year, the worst on the U.S. Drought Monitor scale, and no relief in sight, said state climatologist Nolan Doesken.

    After three years of extreme drought, the soil of southeastern Colorado has been ground into a fine powder, like brown flour, that easily goes airborne.”

    From the Denver Post 6/6/13
    “Darrell Hanavan, executive director of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, said one statistic is particularly telling: Already 20 percent of the wheat acreage planted in Colorado is a total loss, and the number could go as high as 30 percent by next month.

    “That’s an absolutely shocking number,” he said.

    Overall, wheat farmers are reporting dismal conditions. A survey last week of Colorado growers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service showed 60 percent of wheat farmers reporting poor or very poor crop conditions. A year ago at this time, just 23 percent reported in at poor or very poor.”

    From Big Picture Agriculture 6/10/13
    “I recently traveled South from here in Boulder to central New Mexico, and the fields most of the distance as far as my eyes could see were brown and barren. These conditions span thousands of square miles. A completely brown landscape along this route is not normal for late May. These large areas might also start to blow dirt if given strong winds like the 60-MPH ones that caused the dust bowl conditions here in Colorado recently.”

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    Dr. Masters has a post up on these fires.
    I would point out the MODIS shot of Colorado, he placed on the page . There doesn’t appear to be any snow pack left in the San Juan Mountains, or the Sangre de Cristos.

  3. Sue says:

    And pine ark beetles, too

  4. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Here in SE Utah we’re experiencing much of the same as Colorado. Our mountains are bare of snow and we’re seeing 100+ temps already. I’ts unbearably hot and the animals have no place to flee, as the streams are drying up. Utah’s reservoirs are not filling up and many lakes are almost dry. Water restrictions are already in place for lakes like Ken’s Lake (reservoir) near Moab.

  5. Mr Mauricio says:

    Oh well!!! Barack Obama and the Chinese premier agreed to reduce CFCs in the developing world-that should take care of it!

  6. Colorado Bob says:

    Everything west of the 100th meridian , the Donner Summit saw 17% of normal snow pack on May 1st. Going to be a hell of a water year. Some weird brown float on Lake Meade …..

    Dead Fish and Strange Brown Foam at Lake

  7. Steve O says:

    Climate change has now become personal. My younger sister’s house, which was almost entirely built by her husband about 20 years ago, and in which she raised her two children, was destroyed Tuesday in the fire.

    No, climate change did not “cause” the fire. But my family, which has been living in Colorado since 1973, can tell you that the kind of heat and droughts they’ve been experiencing are not normal.
    The loaded dice were rolled, and my sister and her family lost.

  8. Calamity Jean says:

    I’m sorry. I hope no one in your sister’s family was injured.

  9. Eventually there will be nothing left to burn, because the forests will not recover at normal rates in conditions of perpetual drought. Colorado will become Arizona (as will most of California, at least as far North as Francisco).

  10. Thank you for posting this. It’s important that such information is made available on a national/ international format. The beginning of Dust Bowl conditions, long predicted, is certainly worth noting.

    I grew up in Colorado Springs and Boulder, and know the region well. Farmers there have always struggled with dry conditions, and it makes sense that this area would be the first to go over the edge, so to speak.

  11. Steve O says:

    Thank you. They had some time to gather items and evacuate before the fire came. So no injuries.