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Giant Wildfires

Huge wildfire and human resources in Colorado. How big a wildfire can we take on?

In this Wednesday June 27,2012 photo released by NASA showing wild fires burning at the south end of the Wyoming Range in southwestern Wyoming taken aboard the International Space Station, 240 miles above earth. These particular fires, of unknown cause, are burning at the south end of the Wyoming Range in southwestern Wyoming, and have affected 17,000 acres. (AP)

In this Wednesday June 27,2012 photo released by NASA showing wild fires burning at the south end of the Wyoming Range in southwestern Wyoming taken aboard the International Space Station, 240 miles above earth. These particular fires, of unknown cause, are burning at the south end of the Wyoming Range in southwestern Wyoming, and have affected 17,000 acres. (AP)

June is early for wildfires in the West.  But it was blazing this year.  Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho – all fighting fires.  In Colorado last week, 30,000-plus evacuated.  350 homes burned in Colorado Springs alone.

Epic images of mountains ablaze and humans in flight.  We don’t stop hurricanes from their destruction.  But we think we can stop wildfires.  Can we still assume that, in an era of Western tinderbox, drought, development and climate change?

This hour, On Point:  What we’re learning from the early, astonishing explosion of wildfires in the West.

-Tom Ashbrook


Megan Verlee, a reporter for Colorado Public Radio.

Bill Kaage, wildland fire director for the National Park Service and a member of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating group at the National Interagency Fire Center.

Dr. Wally Covington, executive director of the Ecological Restoration Institute.

Map Of Colorado Fires

Check out this Google Crisis map of the fires across the West.

View map in a larger map

From Tom’s Reading List

The Los Angeles Times “The Waldo Canyon wildfire has become a killer, fire officials announced Friday morning, saying that human remains had been found in one burned area. Meanwhile, Colorado Springs was preparing for a presidential visit to what has become the state’s most destructive wildfire.”

DailyClimate.org “As the West has warmed and dried over the past 30 years, headlines describing fire season have grown ever more apocalyptic: “epic” dryness, “monster” fires, new records for damage and devastation.”

Yahoo News “A fierce Colorado wildfire that has forced the evacuation of some 35,000 people while raging for six days at the edge of the state’s second-most populous city has destroyed 346 homes, Mayor Steve Bach said on Thursday, citing preliminary damage reports.”

CBS News “The devastating wildfires in Colorado have provided a showcase for the latest technology in mapping and tracking emergencies. Esri and Google Maps are presenting maps of the fires that the two companies continuously update, demonstrating an increasingly popular method for disseminating emergency information.”

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  • Victor Vito

    Aren’t these fires to some extent natural and even beneficial?  I’d also like to see a profile of the types of homes being destroyed by these fires.  I’m guessing that these are rich folks places, either primary or secondary residence.  In this case they are well insured and the reconstruction will benefit the local economies.

    • Don_B1

      The fires that are “beneficial” are those that only burn the scattered dead and low live growth. These fires do not have flames that are super hot and burn the tall mature trees (e.g., do not burn with flames that reach into the tree’s upper branches).

      But these fires are taking out everything, where the “extra” fuel, in past years from built-up dead brush resulting from past fire suppression, is now from trees killed or dried out from drought and the attacks of the pine bark beetle, which has killed millions of trees as it has proliferated due to the lack of killing winter freezes that are no longer occurring due to climate change.

      The lack of winter snow and now continuing drought is amplified by climate change, just as the likelihood of Barry Bonds hitting a home run was increased by his use of steroids.

      It is interesting that On Point did not reference the NBC story on this issue:


      • Wkrebs

        The people Tom interviews are articulate, knowledgeable and sound as if they care about an informed public.
        However, more and more his rejoinders sound less like expanding the conversation than eliciting more extreme and/or emotional opinions from these guests.He can always have “the last word” despite evidence contrary to his opinion or  the points made by guests or callers. This is exactly the type of hype found on other “talk radio”. It begins to sound like “just talk.”  

      • Gregg

        That weatherman should be fired. It’s insane.

    • TFRX

      The reconstruction? That worries me also.

      Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in
      all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a
      second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned
      down, fell over, then sank into the swamp.”

      Without learning the lesson, just rebuilding the same homes in the same scenarios would lead to the same things later, methinks.

  • SteveV

    We build in flood zones and have seen the results. We build in wilderness areas
    and expect what? Forest fires have been the norm for thousands of years, natures
    way of rejuvenating the woods. Visit the scene of a wildfire several months
    later and witness the new growth. A few decades later and you’d hardly know
    there was a fire. If we gave nature due consideration we wouldn’t build in
    certain areas. But we won’t and will continue to pay the price.

    • Julie Rohwein
    • Don_B1

      We certainly will pay a huge price if we subsidize the insurance that could allow people to rebuild in these areas (floodplains, coastal beaches, etc.).

      While everyone should hope that this drought condition gets at least a short reprieve, it will return and return as the heat build-up will continue due to the CO2 that has been released by burning fossil fuels has a long delay between cause and effect, so that storms and droughts will continue and further intensify. In ten to twenty years those who remember will consider this summer a COOL one.

      Of course if you are like North Carolina Republican legislators who passed a law prohibiting using any data but the first half or so of the 20th Century sea level records in estimating how to deal with coastal issues, are you just saying that God will not allow climate change? Or are they commanding God to prevent climate change? Or something else, less attractive?

  • Pancake Rankin in NC

    The point is not real estate trends but climate trends.
    We are one step away from firestorms with lingering drought and higher temperatures. Combustion recognizes no distinction between rural and urban, affluent and workaday. I doubt shovel soldiers and air tankers effectiveness in fighting what is projected. The same natural conditions as before major fires will be gone, and the landscape cannot regenerate as before. A denuded region tends not to attract precipitation. Rebuilding will not occur in a society where the 1% of wealth possessors cannot immediately benefit, and where borrowing to rebuild creates debt peonage. A wealthy minority prefers scarcity and manipulated chaos, the conditions produced under hypercapitalism.

  • Pancake Rankin in NC

    Anthropomorphic climate alteration and wealth concentration are two aspects of the same genosuicidal trend. Why else would the exploitative tendencies of both medicine and education (human created categories) move in lockstep? Now if we burn civilization down to the roots will it regenerate?
    (Where will fascists find money for firefighting when the “national household” is bankrupted? Will citizens in threatened areas receive a bill from a private contractor? Trashmexco: we haul away your trash and fight wildfires using guest labor.) Capitalism is fire and people get burnt.

    • Don_B1

      Remember the House Republicans led by Eric Cantor, saying that money for national emergencies must be found by cutting money somewhere else, preferably from money for the poor?

  • Charles Vigneron

    The ravages of insects and disease have huge potential to ignite the forested Rockies from Yukon to Mexico. We’ve just seen the beginning. 
    Our forests have been prevented from natural burns for decades and are fuel rich. They don’t burn so much as explode. A local fire several years ago outraced deer, elk, and livestock.  

  • kelty

    These fires are a result of poor land management – plain & simple. You can’t let the tinder build up for years before eventually it is going to catch fire in a BIG way.

    • http://profiles.google.com/rickevans033050 Rick Evans

       Agreed. Nature has been fire managing forests for millions of years with some trees depending on fire for their propagation. Too bad forest land managers and house buyers are not as smart as nature.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

      Who pays for it?

  • Jean Smith

    Are insects like the pine beetle killing trees and this is natures way of fixing the problem?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    It’s crazy that so much resources are spent to attempt to save a handful of houses. And while this particular fire in unprecedented, so many firefighting is to protect the same houses over and over.

    By all means provide resources to evacuate, but I think we need to reexamine spending so much life and money to save houses.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rickevans033050 Rick Evans

     People holding up the evacuation to take cellphone pictures? The singularity has arrived; only because some have become stupider than their technology.

    • Roy Mac

      Too many people are infected with YouTube $$$$’s.

  • Aranphor

    In the last few years with all the
    denial of Global Warming how can denial still be so prevalent as it seems in
    the GOP?

    Talk the connections. For the last few years, record after record falling and in some cases daily. Destructive storms and droughts. When do we finally stop being in denial of climate change??

    • Aranphor

       And one thing does amuse me. How easy it is for some in denial to actually blame the fires on Terrorists when there’s no proof, yet deny it’s Climate Change with the volumes of proof. Go figure.

    • TomK in Boston

      Hey, don’t you know that we can pump infinite amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and it won’t change the climate?  I read that in my Creation Science textbook.

      I wonder how many suffering from these fires have said “government is the problem” and “taxation is theft” and are now complaining that government has not done enough to help? In the TeaOP world, every homeowner should have privatized fire protection.

  • Fred Jensen

    Our company in Montana, Bioroot Energy, aims to use end-of-life wood from forests, such as beetle killed pine, to make a new fuel called Envirolene.  This fuel is biodegradeable and has low emissions.  Though we can’t promise to stop all forest fires, we see this action as reducing the risk of forest fires, since dry dead wood burns more readily than live wood.  

  • injun2

    Bill Kaage, wildland fire director for the National Park Service, has said repeatedly that this fire season is actually below average but the media keeps reporting it as the largest in history. Is this just media hype, or a desire to attribute it to man made global warming?

  • Aaron

    To what extent is climate change combining with the legacy of previous management techniques to spawn these fairly recent large fires? Climate change meaning not only long-term weather trends but also the introduction of invasive species which previously would not have found the ecosystem hospitable.

  • wildlifeguy71

    Perhaps if those that are burned out of their homes each year were to direct their concern and outrage toward calling for a more naturalistic approach to fire management and promoting “fire safe” home ownership, we might avoid some of these losses in the future.

  • Pingback: Pillars of Salt » Wildfires in the Mountain Areas Keep Spreading

  • Ginhelm

    maybe tese people who are populating deserts like Colorado, Arizona, and farmers in these areas and west Texas should read or reread Marc Reisner’s book ‘Cadillac Desert’.
    They are desert civilizations, and thus far none have survived any lenght of time.

  • Jay Harris

    This is not just about wealthy suburban homes, it also gets to property in the boondocks and people who have been living and working there for decades…people who serve on local fire boards and help fight fires on neighbors’ properties. A shout out to the crews fighting to save part of our family ranch in the Arapaho fire in s.e. Wyoming. Be safe and many thanks!

  • Pingback: It does not need to burn. Lets start logging again. - Page 2 - Shooting Sports Forum

  • Classiccarguynowenviro

    As every reporting source shows – if you didn’t believe in global warming until this year – this year confirms what the future is becoming.  The ratio for heat records being broken to cold is what, nearly 10 to 1. 

    Perhaps we need to change the way we live – one example – just saw 2 kids (teens) sitting in their running (gas burning) air conditioned car while I sat outside in shade.  They could have gone inside fast food joint or sat outside like me.  I almost couldn’t restrain self to “educate”.

  • Slipstream

    I was just in Colorado and saw a couple of these fires off in the distance.  The weather has been very hot and dry, and the forests are full of dry, dead timber from the pine beetle kill-offs.  It doesn’t take a lot to start a fire in these conditions.  I was impressed with the beauty and majesty of the Rockies – and I was also struck by the fragility of the ecosystem.  It got me wondering if the Mountain West is not undergoing some massive changes, and whether it will eventually begin to look more like Arizona or New Mexico (dry and barren) than Washington State or BC.  That is not what I would like to see, however – I would like to see thriving, sustainable forests in the Rockies for generations to come.

  • Janet Conover

    Just back from a month in Wyoming, I was astounded by the poor management of the federally controlled lands (more then 50% of Wyoming overall).  Despite severe fire hazard due to Beetle kill, the forest service refuses to release more then a dribble of logging permits or even allow local householder remove firewood.  Leaving the Parks and Wilderness untouched, the vast areas of BLM land and Forest Service land(which are suppose to be management to balance economic activity with conservation) are locked up and dying and waiting to burn.  The Snowy Mountain scenic byway is anything but.   Logging, to separate trees and remove dead ones, would revitalize the forests and the western logging industry which is catatonic, for every year the federal government and conservation groups strangle more acres. The federal government is creating a crisis in Wyoming, gobbling acres and then not taking care of them.  Perhaps the time has come to release lands back to the private sector.  Maine’s privately managed forests are far better ecosystems than those abused under federal care.

    • JGC


  • erideout99

    Tom I was one of your callers, this is my state WYOming. I am concerned about my state in all changes with oil and coal. The thing is this is only the first of it, and we cannot even imagine how much money and energy is there.

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