Climate change, new buildings mean more devastating fires

Experts say that winter prairie fires erupting along the frontier mountain ranges of Colorado are rare, but as climate change warms the earth-absorbing water from plants-suburbs grow in fire-prone areas, and similar events will occur in the next few days. Years will be more common. People continue to cause devastating fires.

“These fires are different from most of the fires we see in the west. In a sense, they are grass fires and they occur in winter,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a professor in the School of Environment and Environment. Sustainability at the University of Michigan. “Ultimately, unless we stop climate change, the situation will continue to deteriorate.”

On Thursday, flames swept through drought-stricken grasslands and communities in northwest Denver at an alarming rate, with guests driving at speeds of up to 105 mph (169 km/h). Thousands of people were ordered to flee without any notice.

“After I got out of Whole Foods, which is about half a mile away from zero, I felt like I had to jump into my car because smoke, wind and nearby flames were engulfing the area, so I had to jump into my car.” Susie Lafayette’s Pringle said in an email. “very scary!”

As of Saturday, three people were missing and at least seven people were injured, but no deaths were reported. Officials estimate that nearly 1,000 houses and other buildings were destroyed.

When the temperature dropped to single digits, many of the houses that survived were still cut off. The fire destroyed at least 9.4 square miles (24 square kilometers).

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but experts say it is clear what caused it to spread so quickly.

Keith Musselman, a snow hydrologist in Boulder, said: “There is no snow on the ground, and it will never happen like it is now.” “It is the grass and the dry landscape that made the fire. Leaped a long distance in a short time.”

Jennifer Balch, a fire scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, said that three components are needed to start the fire—fuel, warm climate, and fire source. “Then you added the fourth ingredient, wind, and this is when it becomes a disaster.”

Balch said the June to December temperature in Colorado was the hottest on record. The grass grows densely because the spring is humid, but no moisture is visible until it snows on Friday night.

“The entire state of Colorado is combustible, our grass is combustible, our bushes are combustible, our trees are combustible,” Barch said. With climate change. “

Balch said that the lesson learned during the entire incident is that “the wasteland-urban interface is much larger than we thought.” This means that wider areas are threatened by wildfires.

She said that the border area-where buildings built by people meet with undeveloped wasteland prone to fire-has always been the foothills. Firefighters in Boulder are considering an interface west of Broadway, a busy road through the city center. Balch said that Thursday’s fire started east of this line, next to thousands of houses that have sprouted on the east side of the Rocky Mountains since the 1990s.

“There is an undeveloped stretch between Denver and Fort Collins, but now it is like a long continuous development trajectory,” Balch said. “These houses are built with very flammable materials-wooden siding, asphalt roofs.

“We need to completely rethink how we build houses.”

She said that another important change is to first understand how these fires started.

“There is no natural fire source at this time of year. There is no lightning,” she said. “It’s either related to infrastructure or it’s man-made.”

“Our lifestyle in the landscape and our daily activities make us vulnerable,” she said.

According to a recent report, in the past 20 years, 97% of wildfires were caused by people. learn Provided by the Collaborative Research Institute of Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. The reasons are varied, from accidents on construction sites to cars with hot exhaust pipes to throwing cigarettes.

“I want to say that we need Smokey Bear in the suburbs,” she said. “We need to think about how our daily activities can promote ignition or spark wildfires.”

Overpeck said that unless people stop climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels, wildfires will threaten communities.

“There is no doubt that the conditions that are conducive to really serious wildfires, whether it is grasslands or forests, will only get worse,” he said.

As more people move to areas where wildfires occur, the threat will increase.

“We are building towns, cities, and infrastructure, so it’s only a matter of time before the entire town is burnt down like in California and such an incident occurs in Colorado.”


Associated Press reporter Brittany Peterson contributed to this report.


Follow Martha Bellisle on Twitter @marthabellisle

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