Colorado Sees Worst Wildfire in History

by Natasha Lasky and Miro Korenha

A wave of deadly forest fires has erupted in Colorado, despite the fact winter storms have begun hitting the state. Warming temperatures across the West Coast have lengthened fire season into November, with disastrous consequences. Three mega-fires have erupted near Denver — the largest (Cameron Peak Fire) and second-largest (East Troublesome Fire) are burning only 10 miles apart from each other, and could potentially merge. 

The fires have also spread into Rocky Mountain National Park and are threatening Estes Park, marking this the largest fire the state has fought in its history. 

 

Why This Matters: Colorado’s average temperature has increased since 1990 by 2 degrees, faster than the global average. And like much of the rest of the country, this summer Colorado saw record-breaking heat. This has dried out soil and has caused the conditions that allow wildfires to grow to record proportions.

This is part of a larger climate trend and climate change is rapidly affecting Colorado as 91% of the state is currently in severe to exceptional drought.  It’s especially dire for the Colorado River as it provides water to eighteen different states and Mexico. 

This summer Western states have suffered the worst wildfires in modern history and it’s one more indication of how desperately we must address the climate crisis.

A Wake-Up Call for Colorado? Wildfires like these will likely continue happening and Colorado’s leadership must prepare for the effects. From helping frontline communities that often do not have the resources to escape dangerous air, to more adapted forest and urban management, Colorado has its work cut out. As the Denver Post reported

  • A Denver Post examination found a $4.2 billion backlog of forestry work identified by the Colorado State Forest Service as critical to protect people and property from fires.
  • Owners of destroyed homes still typically rebuild on site, despite increased erosion and flooding. 
  • More people moving into fire-prone forests between now and 2040 likely will triple the size of a high-risk interface zone, according to a forest service report scheduled for publication next month.

Climate Planning: Colorado has already begun implementing climate policy — the state has almost finished a statewide inventory that approximates the emissions from sources of greenhouse gases across the state, which would allow the state to enforce tougher regulations. And this September, Governor Jared Polis released a climate plan that sets a goal to cut emissions below 2005 levels by 2050, and plan to meet them by shifting to zero-emission vehicles, closing coal plants, and improving the efficiency of heating and cooling buildings.

However, some green groups have criticized the plan for not being specific enough about how the policies to achieve these goals will be set into place. The Natural Resources Defense Council put forth an analysis of how Colorado can fulfill its climate goals while also protecting its most vulnerable citizens. 

 

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