Iowa Public Television


Wildfires Burn Through Colorado

posted on June 29, 2012

Wildfires ravaged portions of the Mountain West this week, consuming thousands of acres and forcing evacuations in many locations and causing at least one death.

President Barack Obama: "I think what you see here is an example of outstanding coordination and cooperation between federal, state and local agencies. We have been putting everything we have in trying to deal with what's one of the worst fires that we've seen here in Colorado. And it's still early in the fire season and we've still got a lot more work to do. But because of the outstanding work that's been done, because of not only the coordination but also some unprecedented arrangements that have been made with military resources combined with the civil resources, we're starting to see progress. “

At least 30,000 residents have been forced from their homes and kept at bay as crews tried containing the fires in what Colorado officials are calling the worst wildfire season in a decade.

The High Park Fire, the second largest in state history, has burned through more than 250 homes, across almost 88,000 acres and cost $33 million to fight. That blaze was started by lightening, but not all may be Mother Nature’s doing.  

Gov. John Hickenlooper, D – Colorado: “But just the very thought that somebody would be out there trying to cause a fire, right, an arsonist who for some strange kick gets joy out of this, I wanted to make clear that we'd throw the book at them. Right? An aggravated arson, you can get up to 48 years in Colorado. And in conditions like this, where it's so dry, and just to think about putting people at risk like that, it just -- it, I think, drives everybody crazy, right? It just makes your blood boil.”

In Colorado, ten forest fires are burning. One of the newest hot spots was in Colorado’s second-largest city of Colorado Springs where more than 340 homes burned to the ground and flames threatened the U.S. Air Force Academy. Only ten acres were charred at the academy.

Strong winds also fueled the blaze as more than 700 fire fighters battled for 100% containment.

Incident Commander, Rocky Opliger: "When you get those thunderstorms and continued lightning you've got the potential for new starts. Once that clears out and you get a warming trend and you've got the potential for warm, dry weather. And that's always a concern especially if we have a lightning strike out there that isn't detected or what we call holdovers that could potential burn. The fuel conditions are record setting right now in the state. So as the temperature gets warmer and drier that's always the potential.”

The fire that destroyed hundreds of homes in the Colorado Springs area is still too dangerous for investigators to begin tracking down the cause.

The Colorado fire is one of many burning across the parched region where moisture has become scarce. Blazes have destroyed structures and prompted evacuations in Utah and Montana and forced the closure of a portion of Zion National Park.

U.S. Forest Service Chief: Tom Tidwell: Tidwell says the majority of wildland fires are human caused and asks people to be careful. “

The University of Nebraska Lincoln’s Drought map shows the progression of dry conditions in the mountain west region. In recent weeks, drought situations spread into the Corn Belt where temps pushed above the century mark across the Midwest.

Tags: burnout Colorado Colorado Springs forest June Obama wildfire