Colorado firefighters speak out on climate change

Short documentary film explores links between global warming and growing wildfire danger

Staff Report

FRISCO — Colorado firefighters who have battled some of the state’s biggest blazes are speaking up about the risks of climate change in a new short documentary film that premiers in Denver this week.

The film links the increase in the number and intensity of Colorado wildfires with climate change. The 7 p.m. showing at the Sie FilmCenter (2510 East Colfax Ave.) is open to the public. Free tickets can be reserved at http://www.denverfilm.org/filmcenter/detail.aspx?id=27436

The screening is presented by The Story Group and Working Films.

In the movie, Rod Moraga, a fire behavior analyst with 26 years of experience, recounts directing firefighting efforts at the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire when he realized his own house was threatened. Continue reading

Spring warmth ups fire danger in Rockies

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A dwindling snowpack means increased fire danger. This low spring snowpack in 2012 was followed by a severe wildfire season in Colorado.

‘The next several weeks are going to be critical in terms of precipitation’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Early snowmelt and above-average temperatures have upped the fire danger across parts of the Rocky Mountain and high plains region, federal officials said this week, forecasting a more active wildfire season than last year.

“This year we are expecting an average to above-average fire season,” said Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center fire meteorologist Tim Mathewson. “A repeat of a 2000, 2002, 2006 and 2012 historic fire season is unlikely at this time; however, the next several weeks are going to be critical in terms of precipitation.” Continue reading

Critical fire weather forecast across big swath of Southwest

All of Arizona, New Mexico encompassed in weekend warning from National Weather Service

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The National Weather Service is highlighting a large part of the Southwest for critical fire weather conditions. Hot temperatures and winds are expected.

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The Whitewater-Baldy Fire burning in New Mexico in June 2012. Photo courtesy Kari Greer/USFS.

Staff Report

FRISCO — In what may signify an early start to the western wildfire season, the National Weather Service Sunday issued bulletin warning that multiple days of critical fire weather conditions are expected across the Southwest this coming week.

From the NWS website:

“A dry airmass will be in place from the Great Basin to the Plains on Sunday. Temperatures warming into the 60s and 70s with wind gusts near 35 mph and relative humidity values from 10 to 15 percent will lead to elevated to critical fire danger. These conditions will likely remain in place until mid-week. Rapid growth and spread is likely with any fires that are ignited in and around this region.”

The warning for this week is a shift away from a seasonal forecast issued last month that didn’t include any elevated early season fire danger in the region. Parts of the Southwest saw some relief from a multi-year drought this winter, but overall, the region is still dry and fire danger can be significant even during normal precipitation years.

The areas with the highest potential for dangerous fires extends from southeastern California through southern Nevada, southeastern Utah, far western Colorado and covers nearly all of Arizona and much of New Mexico.

Both New Mexico and Arizona saw their largest wildfires on record during the past several years, including the 2011 Wallow Fire in Arizona, which burned across half a million acres (about 841 square miles). In New Mexico, the 2011 Las Conchas Fire burned about 150,000 acres, following by the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire in 2012 in Catron County, New Mexico, which scorched nearly 300,000 acres.

 

 

 

 

One more time: Beetle-killed forests are NOT more likely to burn, according to new CU-Boulder study

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Beetle-killed lodgepole pines in Colorado. bberwyn photo.

New CU-Boulder study has implications for forest managers and Red Zone communities

Staff Report

*More Summit Voice stories on beetle-kill and forests here.

FRISCO — Communities and resource managers looking to address the threat of wildfires should focus less on tree-killing beetles and more on the underlying forces driving the trend toward larger fires.

Warmer temperatures and increased drought are the key factors, said Colorado-based researchers who took a close look at patterns of beetle-kill and wildfires in recent years.

Their study found that western forests killed by mountain pine beetles are no more at risk to burn than healthy forests. Those findings  fly in the face of both public perception and policy, the scientists acknowledged.

“What we are seeing in this study is that at broad scales, fire does not necessarily follow mountain pine beetles,” said CU-Boulder Research Scientist Tania Schoennagel, of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “It’s well known, however, that fire does follow drought.” Continue reading

Wildfire season starts slow for 2d year in a row

Continued Western drought, warmth set stage for significant wildfires later this summer

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After a dry and warm winter, southern Alaska will have a better than average chance of signficant wildfire activity this spring. Map via NIFC.

By Bob Berwyn

Western wildfires have always been shape-shifting beasts, roaring to life wherever there is hot and dry weather, wind and fuel. But last year’s relatively cool and wet summer brought relief to parts of the region — including Colorado — that had been especially hard the previous few years.

The 2015 wildfire season is starting similarly slow to last year, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center showing that, since January 1, there have been about 6,200 fires that burned across a 100,000 acre footprint, just 30 percent of the average from the past 10 years. Continue reading

What drives extreme fires? It’s mostly the weather

Forest Service scientists study aftermath of Rim Fire to assess effectiveness of forest health treatments

A NASA Earth Observatory image shows smoke plumes from the Rim Fire in August, 2013. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

A NASA Earth Observatory image shows smoke plumes from the Rim Fire in August, 2013. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A detailed new study of fire behavior of the 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite provides a nuanced view of the effectiveness of forest health treatments.

The Rim Fire was the largest recorded fire in the Sierra Nevada region, and U.S. Forest Service researchers said in their study that the fire burned with moderate to high intensity on days the Rim Fire was dominated by a large pyro-convective plume, a powerful column of smoke, gases, ash, and other debris — regardless of the number of prior fires, topography, or forest conditions. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Captive breeding program launched for critically endangered Arizona squirrel

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A Mt. Graham red squirrel, via USFWS.

Less than 300 Mt. Graham red squirrels left in the wild

Staff Report

FRISCO — A rare squirrel that lives only in fire-prone southern Arizona forests may get a new lease on life, as federal and state biologists team up for a captive breeding effort to try and bolster populations.

There are fewer than 300 Mount Graham red squirrels living in the wild. In recent years, their habitat has been devastated by large wildfires. Any new fires could wipe out the population, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Extended drought (especially in the higher-elevation forest types) and outbreaks of forest insects and other tree diseases have also taken a toll. Continue reading

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