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Environment: New model could boost forecasts for predicting behavior of large and complex wildfires

Local firefighters teamed up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire along Montezuma Road, near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Local firefighters team up in March 2012 to quell an early season wildfire along Montezuma Road, near Keystone Resort, in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Updated satellite instruments help refine predictions

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As the West Fork Fire Complex roared through the spruce and fir forests of the Colorado San Juans last summer, on its way to becoming the state’s second-largest wildfire on record, communities in the region were on edge for days. Slight shifts in wind pushed the fire in new directions every other day, forcing some residents to leave their homes for weeks.

Like many large fires, the West Fork Complex even created its own weather, making it even harder for experts to project its path. But new research by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Maryland may help firefighters and resource managers get a better handle on predicting fire behavior. Continue reading

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Scientists caution against too much post-fire logging

Burned areas a critical piece of overall forest health

Post-fire landscapes are important in the big picture of long-term forest health. bberwyn photo.

Post-fire landscapes are important in the big picture of forest health. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With political momentum growing in support of more logging, a group of leading scientists is trying to counterbalance the forest crisis mythology that has developed in the past few years. That mythology has no basis in science and is promulgated to support a political agenda.

In an open letter to the U.S. Congress, the scientists asked Congress show restraint in speeding up logging in the wake of this year’s wildfires, most notably the Rim fire in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

It’s important to recognize that the scientists are not saying that there should neve be any logging, anywhere. Rather, the decisions need to be made in a measured way, considering all the environmental implications and the role that burned areas have in the bigger picture of long-term forest health. Continue reading

Global warming: Forests can’t win for losing

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Drought stress can lead to more tree mortality in the aftermath of forest fires. Photo courtesy Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, Summit County, Colorado.

Yet another climate feedback

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Even if trees aren’t directly killed by drought, the ongoing stress of dry conditions can lead to more tree mortality in the aftermath of forest fires and prescribed burns.

The findings come from a new study that took a close look at varied forest types around the west, including in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

Most of the data was compiled in areas where agencies conducted prescribed fires between 1984 and 2005. The researchers looked at more than 7,000 individual conifers. Continue reading

Excess Air Force planes eyed for firefighting duty

Sen. Mark Udall pressing Defense Department to transfer unneeded cargo planes to U.S. Forest Service as soon as possible

A  C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

A C-27J in flight. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service efforts to modernize its firefighting air tanker fleet aren’t moving fast enough for Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado democrat who has been pushing for more wildfire resources on all fronts.

This week, Udall pressed the U.S. Defense Department to quickly transfer excess military aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. In a bipartisan letter, spearheaded with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), Udall said the Pentagon isn’t using its authority to transfer its excess aircraft at no cost to taxpayers.

According to the letter, the Forest Service was unable to meet about half of the requests for firefighting air support in 2012. The Air Force is nearing completion of a divestiture plan for the C-27J Spartan aircraft, and Udall wants to see at least some of those planes put to work fighting fires. Read the letter here. Continue reading

Could drones help battle wildfires?

Test sites proposed to learn how drones could improve wildfire monitoring, mitigation, and containment

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Images taken from space can provide a lot of information about wildfires, but low-level flights by unmanned aircraft could help make firefighting safer and more efficient, some experts believe. This image of the West Fork Fire Complex in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado was taken June 26 from the International Space Station. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory page for more information about the image.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A pair of U.S. Senators wants to get a leg up on wildfires by spurring the use of unmanned surveillance aircraft to make firefighting efforts more efficient.

“Extreme wildfires have become an all too common occurrence in Colorado, leaving families without homes and hundreds of thousands of charred acreage in their paths,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). “We need to employ every tool available to help firefighters in their battles. This bipartisan amendment will help us develop UAS technology and teach us more about how they can strengthen our fights against wildfires more quickly and safely.”

Bennet (D-CO) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) this week introduced an amendment to create two additional test sites for unmanned aerial systems, with a focus on how they could be used for firefighting. Continue reading

A vicious cycle: New study says wildfire soot may be a bigger factor in global warming than previously thought

The Las Conchas Fire, burning July 6, 2011 in the Jemez Mountains, sends up a pyrocumulus cloud. Photo courtesy

The Las Conchas Fire, burning July 6, 2011 in the Jemez Mountains, sends up a pyrocumulus cloud. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Tiny ‘tar balls’ are very good at absorbing the sun’s energy

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Soot from wildfires includes tiny tarball-like particles that focus sunlight and warm the atmosphere when they absorb light. The overall effect may contribute more to global warming than previously thought, researchers with Los Alamos National Laboratory said in a new study based on measurements during the huge 2011 Las Conchas Fire, which burned in the vicinity of the lab.

“We’ve found that substances resembling tar balls dominate, and even the soot is coated by organics that focus sunlight,” said senior laboratory scientist Manvendra Dubey, “Both components can potentially increase climate warming by increased light absorption.” Continue reading

Summit Voice: Most-viewed stories

Wildfire, weather, climate and the environment …

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Summit Voice had readers all over the world the past 30 days, including page views originating in Greenland and Mongolia.

FRISCO — Coverage of the West Fork Fire Complex, which has grown to become the second-largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history, was the most-viewed story last week, but a water story focusing in Lake Powell and published just yesterday, quickly raced up the charts, followed by a story on the environmental impacts of using dispersants on oil spills.

Click on the headlines to read the stories and pass them along on your own favorite social media netwoks by using the share buttons at the end of each story.

Federal wildfire budgets need a makeover

Congress makes bipartisan push to reform funding for prevention

The East Peak Fire burns in late June, 2013 in the Spanish Peaks area. Photo courtesy Inciweb.org/Don Degman.

The East Peak Fire burns in late June, 2013 in the Spanish Peaks area. Photo courtesy Inciweb.org/Don Degman.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators says the Forest Service must find a better to allocate funds for firefighting. Cutting money for wildfire prevention leads to spiraling costs for firefighting and ultimately increases the size of fires, the senators wrote in a June 28 letter to cabinet members.

The letter requests the administration to create an action plan to fully fund prevention efforts such as hazardous fuels reduction, in addition to fire suppression efforts. Currently, the administration takes funds from other non-fire programs to pay for fire suppression costs – a practice called fire borrowing. Continue reading

Colorado: Breckenridge bans 4th of July sparklers

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It’s lights-out for handheld sparklers and other small ground-based fireworks in Breckenridge.

Fire concerns cited as reason for zero-tolerance policy on illegal pyrotechnics

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Fireworks enthusiasts are feeling the squeeze in Breckenridge, where the town recently banned all previously permissible ground-based fireworks, including sparklers, ground spinners and small fountain and Roman candle-type fireworks.

The ban is based on wildfire concerns, as town officials said that even the smallest spark could lead to a wildfire in the dry forest surrounding the community. Fireworks are suspected as the possible cause of a small wildfire last weekend in the lower French Gulch area. Continue reading

Colorado: West Fork Fire continues to grow

Firefighters have made progress in protecting developments in the area

The West Fork Fire complex perimeter as of June 23, 2013.

The West Fork Fire complex perimeter as of June 23, 2013.

Thick smoke from the West Fork Fire Complex hangs over Del Norte, Colorado. Photo courtesy Inciweb.org.

Thick smoke from the West Fork Fire Complex hangs over Del Norte, Colorado. Photo courtesy Inciweb.org.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Firefighters said they made progress Sunday in setting up defensive positions around summer cabins, residences and other developed facilities near the West Fork Fire Complex, which grew to about 76,000 acres by the end of the weekend.

In the most recent update on InciWeb.org, officials said firefighters are planning to install sprinkler systems to help protect some developed facilities in the area. The town of South Fork is still under an evacuation order, and the summer recreation economy in the region is taking a big hit.

Another round of red flag fire weather, with increasing southwest winds and low humidity will continue to hamper efforts to contain the fire, which was started by lightning earlier this month. Continue reading

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