Colorado Fire One For The Record Books
The largest wildfire in Colorado is near Ft. Collins and is now reportedly 50 percent contained, after burning for 10 days.
But how big is this fire, jumpstarted by lightning?
Nationally, last June the average acres burned per fire was 204.8, according to NOAA. In 2002, it was 284.2 acres.
In Colorado, the average acres burned per fire from 2000-2009 (pdf) was 39.12.
To get a sense of the scale of the High Park fire, on Tuesday the US Forest Service reported that 58,770 acres had been burned. That’s more than the total burned in Colorado for the year in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2009. The decade average for the 1990s is less than half that of this fire, 21,796 acres.
Smoke from the fire has traveled 60 miles to Denver.
Earlier this year, scientists at the University of Oregon predicted an increase in fires due to “a perfect storm” of conditions.
While grazing and fire suppression have kept incidents of wildfires unusually low for most of the last century, the amounts of combustible biomass, temperatures and drought are all rising. “Consequently, a fire deficit now exists and has been growing throughout the 20th century, pushing fire regimes into disequilibrium with climate,” the team concludes.
In their analysis, Marlon and colleagues used existing records on charcoal deposits in lakebed sediments to establish a baseline of fire activity for the past 3,000 years. They compared that with independent fire-history data drawn from historical records and fire scars on the landscape.
“We can use the relationship between climate and fire,” Marlon said, “to answer the question: What would the natural level of fire be like today if we didn’t work so hard to suppress or eliminate fires? The answer is that because of climate change and the buildup of fuels across the western U.S., levels of burning would be higher than at any time over the past 3,000 years, including the peak in burning during the Medieval Climate Anomaly.”
“Policymakers and others need to re-evaluate how we think of the past century to allow us to adjust and prepare for the future,” [Bartlein] said. “Recent catastrophic wildfires in the West are indicators of a fire deficit between actual levels of burning and that which we should expect given current and coming climate conditions. Policies of fire suppression that do not account for this unusual environmental situation are unsustainable.” (emphasis added)
Buckle your seat belts.
P.P.S. According to the drought monitor, my native southwest Georgia is in a class 4 “exceptional” drought. Drought conditions have eased in Texas but not in southwest Georgia.
Photo credits: Official Army National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Skye Robinson
Fire Information Report for High Park
Wildland Fire Incident
Report Date: 19-JUN-12
|Burnt Area:||58,770 Acres (4% increase from yesterday)|
|Location:||Larimer County, CO (15 miles west of Fort Collins, CO)|
|Containment Status:||(50% contained)|
|Fuels:||Grass, Brush, and Timber High 14700000.00 1773PRIM|