Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Climate ambulance chasers are trying to bag another photogenic wildfire for their cause. But Colorado legislated a moratorium on prescribed burns in 2012, following a burn fail which ended in three fatalities.
How climate change primed Colorado for a rare December wildfire
The ground, typically moist from snow this time of year, was dry and flammable as a result of unusually warm temperatures and a lack of precipitation in recent months, experts said.
Jan. 1, 2022, 7:30 PM AEST By Elizabeth Chuck
The rare December blaze that tore through Boulder County, Colorado, at frightening speed this week may not be that unusual in the future, wildfire experts are warning, as climate change sets the stage for more.
Wildfires do not historically happen during the winter, particularly in areas like Boulder County, where the ground is normally moist from snow.
But in recent months, Colorado has experienced a severe drought. From July 1 through Dec. 29, 2021, Denver recorded its lowest amount of precipitation by over an inch, with snowfall at record low levels, too. Meanwhile, Boulder, which typically sees about 30 inches of snow between September and December, received just one inch in that period leading up to the day of the fire.
Combine that with an unseasonably warm fall, and the ground had significantly less moisture in it than it normally would — creating perfect conditions for a fire to flourish.
“Everything is kind of crispy,” said Keith Musselman, a snow hydrologist and assistant research professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. “In addition to the extreme drought, just one- or two-degree warmer days can really dry out the landscape quite a bit more, so everything is that much drier and flammable.”
Officials say wind gusts of up to 105 mph fanned the flames, rapidly destroying between 500 and 1,000 homes and giving residents barely any time to evacuate.
…Read more: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/climate-change-primed-colorado-rare-december-wildfire-rcna10543
Foresters calling for an end to the moratorium on prescribed burns in early 2021.
Foresters Want More Prescribed Burns To Avoid Future Wildfire Disasters In Colorado. But The State Forest Service Isn’t Allowed To Conduct Them
By Michael Elizabeth Sakas January 28, 2021
Prescribed burns require permits and specific weather conditions to be done safely. The National Park Service considers it one of the most important tools for forest health and for preventing wildfire destruction.
That means burning piles of debris, and also setting fire to aces of land — a procedure known as broadcast burning.
“The Colorado state forest service does not do that anymore,” Twitchell said.
In March of 2012, the Colorado State Forest Service was managing a prescribed fire southeast of Conifer. The winds picked up on a hot and dry day, which started the Lower North Fork Fire. It killed three people, and destroyed nearly two dozen homes.
Colorado State Forester Mike Lester said the event was traumatic for many — agency staffers included.
“A lot of really good people really felt like their life’s work was tarnished in some way,” Lester said. “And it was unfair because they applied the techniques at that point in time we thought were the right ways to do it.”
An independent review of the fire found no individual at fault. But victims criticized the review and wanted change. A bill was passed, which ended the state forest service’s authority to do prescribed burning. The agency’s fire unit employees were moved to the Division of Fire Prevention and Control.
…Read more: https://www.cpr.org/2021/01/28/foresters-want-more-prescribed-burns-to-avoid-future-wildfire-disasters-in-colorado-but-the-state-forest-service-isnt-allowed-to-conduct-them/
Despite this, Colorado announced plans for prescribed burns late last year – or maybe the moratorium was partial? Or was the moratorium lifted in 2021? If anyone in Colorado knows what is happening with prescribed burn policy, please comment below.
Prescribed burns planned for parts of Colorado in coming weeks
As fall weather hits Colorado, fire management units in Rio Grande National Forest and Cañon City have announced their plans to conduct annual controlled burns.
Residents in these areas may see smoke for several hours each day during burns and are asked to not call emergency services.
There are various reasons that a prescribed fire could be planned, including to reduce debris that could fuel a wildfire, manage landscapes, and improve animal habitats.
…Read more: https://www.outtherecolorado.com/news/prescribed-burns-planned-for-parts-of-colorado-in-coming-weeks/article_76e658b4-22fd-11ec-9f6e-ebda698326c0.html
CNN reports nobody died in the December Colorado fire. This is a huge credit to emergency responders, but Colorado also got very lucky.
Hundreds of homes were lost in December, and the fire spread very quickly. In my opinion this suggests the restrictions on prescribed burns may have had an impact. Even if prescribed burns were restarted in late 2021, if this is what happened, it would have been very difficult to remove 10 years of accumulated fuel load in a few months.
Blaming the problem on climate change without mentioning Colorado’s forest management policies does not help anyone understand the situation.