Summit Daily editorial: Coming to grips with a future of fire
July 14, 2017
The Breckenridge Peak 2 Fire on July 5 has sounded the alarm for many across Summit County.
Shaking us out of our complacency, the terrifying sight of smoke rising above our communities reminded us that, despite a long streak of good luck, we're still vulnerable to natural disaster. All it takes is a lightning strike or an unattended campfire — coupled with strong gusts of wind and dry conditions — and our comfortable way of life is suddenly under threat.
The Peak 2 Fire also perhaps foreshadows a disturbing new normal for the Colorado Rockies and the West. A 2016 study published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" concludes that climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the West over the last 30 years. The authors of that study suggest that it's only going to get worse.
"No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear," said study coauthor Park Williams. "Climate is really running the show in terms of what burns. We should be getting ready for bigger fire years than those familiar to previous generations."
Although it might seem counterintuitive, some studies suggest that our pine-beetle decimated forests, themselves a product of climate change, won't necessarily result in more intense fires. However, our local fire officials, the ones on the front lines, certainly don't see it that way.
Locally, there are no ready-made, easy solutions that will reverse the immediate effects of climate change. And clearing out beetle-kill from our population centers continues to be a Herculean task that will take decades and million of dollars. But let's face it. We came to the forest — it did not come to us. We have to take seriously county-wide efforts to create so-called defensible space around homes and neighborhoods. Call your local fire protection district and see if your property is up to snuff. Encourage your neighbors to do the same.
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Living with the threat of wildfires will be the subject of the Summit Daily News's next What's Brewing, a chance for us to meet with our readers and connect them with local experts. You're invited to join us at 10 a.m. on August 2 at the Summit County Community and Senior Center. We want to know how we can better cover wildfires moving forward, as well as how we can better inform the public when these events occur.
The Summit Daily would like to take this chance thank the hundreds of brave men and women who rallied to douse the Peak 2 Fire and keep lives and property free from harm. The firefighters' selfless actions were awe-inspiring. We fear it's just a matter of time before we need them again.