Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Raging Fires Return to Colorado!

A house is fully engulfed by the Black Forest Fire.

A home is engulfed in Black Forest, roughly 8 miles north of my place.

The choking smoke smothered everything in sight this morning, even as I struggled to get the hoses ready for front and backyards to water down the tinder dry lawn.  This experience was even worse than last year's (Waldo Canyon Fire) since I have been fighting an acute case of bronchitis for the past week. Despite that, I tied on a make-do face mask, dampened first, and went about soaking the lawn given the fire this year is even closer.

We suspected the worst might happen yesterday around 2 p.m. when 15 acres was first reported burning in the Black Forerst neighborhood, a tony uppercrust, "independent" subdivision about eight miles north of us. TV images taken from the corner of Powers and Woodmen in Colorado Springs showed billowing smoke and the TV meteorologist didn't make light of the fact that conditions were ideal for it to spread: 97 deg F, barely 7% humidity and winds out of the southeast at 30-34 mph.  He then showed a disarming photo of Black Forest lush with its green, well manicured lawns - but noted looks can be deceiving. Particularly as the trees that surrounded the area itself had literally become tinder for fire.

I noted the reasons why last year, when writing about the Waldo Canyon Fire that erupted south of us.That is, that the trees in Colorado have been victimized by sundry insects -particularly the mountain pine beetle -  mainly on account of the drought which has unleashed them in greater numbers.  They've essentially  converted the once living material into tinder that literally explodes when conditions are right- as they were yesterday afternoon.

So true, since from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. the Black Forest Fire expanded to 400 acres, then reached 800 acres by 5.30 p.m. and 3, 800 acres by 9 p.m. When I awoke this a.m. it was at 8,000 acres with zero containment and people from Falcon were being required to evacuate. Already anywhere from 60-80 homes may have been destroyed.

One of the problems has been lack of adequate water and manpower resources, this as another fire is raging south of us and another erupted near the Royal Gorge, rapidly expanding to 3, 800 acres. The latter fire saw state bureau of prisons agents evacuating prisoners  from the Colorado Territorial Prison at Canyon City. At one point, water storage tanks had to be raided, and since no large slurry planes were available. Instead,  four odd Chinook helicopters (from Ft. Carson) had to be loaded, each with a few hundred gallons, to dump them on thousands of burning acres. A water "shortage" was referred to at one point, and I couldn't help thinking of the 14- 18 million gallons of water wasted so far in our area by fracking for natural gas wells (all of which have emerged 'dry') that might have been used now to put out the fires.

Will the frackers (and the state) learn from this? Somehow, I doubt it. This despite, as I also noted last year, the trend is for these hot, dry raging fire summers to continue in Colorado and the Mountain west. Recall my reference last June to a Washington Post article entitled: Pace of Climate Change Exceeds Estimates, wherein one read:

"Warmer weather, earlier snowmelt, drought and beetle infestations facilitated by warmer climates are all contributing to the rising number of fires linked to climate change. Across large swaths of the United States and Canada, bark beetles have killed many mature trees, making forests more flammable. And tropical rain forests that were not susceptible to forest fires in the past are likely to become drier as temperatures rise, growing more vulnerable."

The beetle referenced above is the mountain pine beetle, a variant of the bark beetle species. It's modus operandi is basically to convert living plant tissue - say in trees -  into highly flammable dead bark for which the slightest spark can set off a conflagration. The beetle then, is a major catalyst for all the presently raging and uncontained Colorado wildfires.

What will we do in the meantime? All we can do is hope the wind direction soon changes so that the acrid odor of smoke which now permeates the house can be abated. Most of it is drawn in with the operation of the evaporative cooler. But with temperatures set to hit 90 today there's no way to turn it off and close all the windows- we'd suffocate. So, we have to tough it out.

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