‘They’re getting bigger, faster’: Colorado braces for what’s next after last year’s explosive wildfires | SummitDaily.com

‘They’re getting bigger, faster’: Colorado braces for what’s next after last year’s explosive wildfires

Bruce Finley
The Denver Post
The East Troublesome Fire is seen from Cottonwood Pass looking north on Oct. 21 as the fire ripped across Grand County. Photo by Andrew Lussie / U.S. Forest Service


DENVER — Federal forest firefighter Ben McLane got a visceral feel for the West’s intensifying wildfire predicament when his 20-man Hotshot crew rolled into Colorado last summer and faced the lightning-sparked Pine Gulch blaze — flames racing across bone-dry land and, each day, leaping beyond containment boundaries the firefighters hacked into soil.

“You’re not going to stop megafires,” McLane said last week as increasingly arid states braced for more battles. “They’re getting bigger, faster, putting us on our heels.”

Deepening uncertainty about what to expect as the climate warms, and doubts about firefighters’ ability to guarantee protection, pervade the early planning for wildfires this year. Colorado and federal officials are bracing after fires shattered records in 2020, burning 667,000 acres statewide. Three exploded rapidly and became the largest wildfires in the state’s recorded history.

While mudslides and erosion that chokes streams with sediment loom as consequences, state and federal officials are mobilizing to fight new wildfires.

Exceptional to extreme aridity across 57% to 90% of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Arizona this month — markedly worse than in March 2020, according to U.S. Drought Monitor data — has primed forests for bigger burns. An ocean surface temperature pattern also is expected to favor hot, dry and windy conditions in much of Colorado.

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