Wildfire on CO Army Base Shows Military’s Vulnerability to Climate Change

On Sunday, a wildfire in Colorado jumped a highway and spread on to Fort Carson and for a time burned out of control on lands used for military training.  The Wild Horse Fire is small but was only 10% contained yesterday morning.  Army combat helicopters located at the installation were used to fight the fire, which remains far away from the most populous areas.  In a 2019 Defense Department Report on climate change impacts on the military, wildfires were a concern at dozens of installations surveyed.  The report explained, “Due to routine training and testing activities that are significant ignition sources, wildfires are a constant concern on many military installations.”

Why This Matters:  As President Trump bleeds money from the military to build the border wall (which fortunately a federal court just put on hold), climate change — a real emergency for the military — goes unaddressed.  Indeed, the military has worried aloud recently that “climate-change-related catastrophes could inflict such widespread damage on U.S. infrastructure that the military may have to commit most of its resources to disaster relief missions unprecedented in their scale,” NBC News reported.  And that disaster could happen right on the very military installations upon which we would depend for that help.

Military Vulnerability to Climate Change

The Pentagon Report gave a minimal assessment of the military’s vulnerability to climate — saying that 79 installations were at risk but providing very little information about which installations were most at risk and from what climate threats.  In 2018, Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle was leveled — 95% of its buildings severely damaged or destroyed, according to NBC News. At risk there — nearly one-third of the Air Force’s fleet of ultra-valuable F-22 Raptor stealth fighters. Seventeen were stored in a hanger to ride out the storm, but sections of the hangar’s roof collapsed on them.  It cost $5 billion to rebuild Tyndall and another Air Force base damaged by the midwest floods that year, and in the meantime, the Air Force had to move its F-22 operations elsewhere.

Military’s Increasing Climate Rescue Missions

But just as concerning is the fact that the military’s missions responding to the climate crisis are also growing — and not just abroad — but also at home.  Last month, as The Washington Post described, two California Air National Guard helicopters flew repeatedly into the out of control wildfires and conducted a first of its kind aerial rescue of 214 people who were trapped in the Creek Fire.  One other possible example — that hurricanes or flooding (such as was the case with Hurricane Sandy in 2012) could also damageU.S. port — ports through which America receives around 80 percent of its agricultural imports and exports. If disasters like these keep mounting, the military will have to focus an increasing amount of its efforts on domestic disasters, which divert its attention from foreign threats.

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