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One of the biggest disasters in Colorado history
June 28, 2012 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Back in March, Samuel Smith wondered "Will 2012 be the summer when Colorado finally burns to the ground?" A perfect combination of record high heat, record low snow pack, low humidity and high levels of underbrush made Colorado (and elsewhere) a tinderbox ready to blow. Unfortunately, that is now playing out. The Denver post says the fires are "shaping up as one of the biggest disasters in Colorado history." Some of the best sources for following the fires..

For official wildfire statistics, Inciweb is the most comprehensive source of data. Google also has its own wildfire maps. National Weather Service has special pages for the Waldo Canyon and Flagstaff fires.

Denver Post wildfires coverage. Boulder Daily Camera's website. The Twitter hashtags to follow include: #highparkfire, #waldocanyonfire (the fire near Colorado Springs), and #flagstafffire (the fire near Boulder). Denver's television stations: 9 News, CBS 4 Denver, KDVR TV are devoting many resources to covering the wildfires. You can watch a livestream of KDVR's fire coverage.

Meanwhile, a Massive `Debilitating` Heat Wave Expands Eastward.

[post courtesy of ClimateCentral]
posted by stbalbach (86 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Waldo Canyon
posted by stbalbach at 11:28 AM on June 28, 2012


.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:32 AM on June 28, 2012




And incredibly, this is the day that new cadets inprocess into the Air Force Academy. I can't imagine what they must be thinking. (Yes they did proceed although they did make some locational adjustments.)

I spoke to some friends in the Springs....what they described was beyond heartbreak. So very many have lost homes....houses exploding into flames. I won't be complaining about our own triple digit weekend coming up.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:42 AM on June 28, 2012


Wow. Just wow. I spoke to a childhood friend Tuesday night and it sounded apocalyptic but I had no idea until I looked at the maps. Good luck to everyone.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:44 AM on June 28, 2012


That Googlemaps tool is excellent, thanks for posting.
posted by saladin at 11:45 AM on June 28, 2012


Interesting that nothing east of Colorado appears to be in danger.

Except for Wisconsin. *sigh*

We've just had two large local fireworks shows announce that they're postponing their customary displays until the end of July, at least. They figured it was appropriate not to set the rest of the state on fire in celebration of our country.
posted by thanotopsis at 11:46 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]



I wasn't that big a fan of the death and destruction, but the best job I ever had was fighting wildland fires.

I hope everyone there is safe. It is small comfort, but stuff can be replaced.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:47 AM on June 28, 2012


Help Colorado. Wild Fire T-Shirts.
posted by ericb at 11:49 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wife's best friend has a sister who is a Colorado Springs firefighters. Says she has never seen anything even remotely like this.
posted by kgasmart at 11:50 AM on June 28, 2012


From another article re: the fires and the possibility of a link with climate change:

As Colorado Springs continued burning Wednesday, CSU emeritus atmospheric scientist William Gray was preaching to a choir of Larimer County Republican Club members that all the climate science currently being conducted at CSU and what it has to say about this year’s drought are little more than nonsense.

Gray, whose audience included Larimer County Clerk and Recorder Scott Doyle and other local GOP luminaries, is well known for his denial of mainstream climate science. His argument that people must adapt to a warming climate that is certain to one day begin cooling again earned him a standing ovation from the conservatives in the room.

“His presentation was excellent,” said Tammy Swanson, a Republican who attended the speech. “Very good scientific information. He made it fun.”


See, some people are having fun!
posted by tittergrrl at 11:52 AM on June 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


Maybe it's a bit of red car syndrome but everytime I see natural disasters related to weather I think of the premise that events that used to happen less often are going to happen more often due to climate change. I think this is the basis for that thinking pattern and I may have gotten it from a FP post/discussion here on the blue. That sound familiar to anyone else?

Sad, sad story for Colorado.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:52 AM on June 28, 2012


My friend who was planning on moving to Fort Collins went ahead and did so this week. He's not settled in yet, and the fire closest to him is supposedly contained, but man, does his timing suck.
posted by emjaybee at 11:56 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


said Tammy Swanson,

Did I just get rickrolled or was Ron Swanson's wife really there? He is one of my heroes after all...
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:56 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


We've been fighting brush fires out here in TN-- little, piddly things, but no joke when it's already 105F -- but I can't even imagine what it must be like right now in the Big Ones.

Fingers crossed for those firefighters and their families. Those are some brave, brave people.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:57 AM on June 28, 2012


If you have Google Earth you can get KML files of all the wildfires in the US from the Forest Service.

I have family in Arvada, which is not yet in danger but there doesn't seem to reason to relax at this point.
posted by tommasz at 11:58 AM on June 28, 2012


Thousands of federal firefighters charged with taming the blazes do not have health insurance.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:01 PM on June 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


Structures threatened: 20,085 residences and 160 commercial structures

Evacuees: Approx. 32, 000


WOW (that's the fire near C. Springs)
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:02 PM on June 28, 2012


Watched flames lick across the top of the peaks just west of Boulder from my backyard a couple of nights ago. We're lucky so far - the Flagstaff Fire has proven a helluva lot more manageable than Waldo Canyon.

It's going to be a long, ugly summer at this rate.

Temperatures have been insane here. Everything seems to have gotten started early. It didn't snow more than a dusting all winter where my folks are at in Northeast Nebraska. In Kansas, where some of my family still farm, the wheat harvest was done in some places by the time it would traditionally have just been getting rolling.

I could be convinced that none of this has anything to do with climate change, that it's all just within the normal range of variation and there's nothing to see here move along folks, but it sure doesn't feel that way.
posted by brennen at 12:02 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you don't want to use KML, the GeoMAC Fire Viewer is pretty neat.
posted by troika at 12:03 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


No doubt that climate change is responsible for the severity and intensity of the fires, but the Colorado Springs fires also seem to be happening in newer neighbourhoods constructed in traditonal "fire interface" zones.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:06 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I heard yesterday that the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the NOAA facility in Boulder that's one of the most prominent sites for climate research, was evacuated.
posted by jhandey at 12:09 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


No doubt that climate change is responsible for the severity and intensity of the fires, but the Colorado Springs fires also seem to be happening in newer neighbourhoods constructed in traditonal "fire interface" zones.

Yeah, I heard a lot of people say similar things after the Fourmile Canyon Fire. Front Range Colorado has a ton of semi-urban/forest interface landscape, a lot of it on terrain that's got to be hard to deal with.
posted by brennen at 12:10 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine thinks her house may have already burned down, and another friend is just a few miles from the evacuation zone. Thinking of them a lot lately.
posted by sararah at 12:15 PM on June 28, 2012


Goddamn.

Living in California, I pay attention to big fires in the Western states. We didn't have a bad fire season last year, which was good but also bad, because there's that much more undergrowth waiting to burn, and we had a very wet spring. We're in the process of planning a road trip for this fall that will take us from Las Vegas to Albuquerque, via some of the awesome parks in Utah (Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands) and the southwestern corner of Colorado.
posted by rtha at 12:25 PM on June 28, 2012


From the first link: There are plenty of variables in play, but I think the conclusion that a lot of us are drawing focus on the combination of “millions of acres of dead trees” and “extreme drought.”

The relationship between wildfires and beetle-killed trees is fairly complicated. You can't draw a direct line between lots of beetle-killed trees and increased fire -- it depends on what kind of fire you have, what sorts of trees are affected, and, most importantly, what stage in the beetle-kill process the trees are in.

If trees are in the "red" state (like the trees in the photo in the first link) -- then the fire danger can be fairly high. Once the trees pass into the "grey" stage and the needles drop, then fire risk may actually be lessened, since the needles aren't there to act as kindling. After about 20 years, the fire danger seems to go back to normal (given the ever-shifting value of "normal" given climate change). Also a factor: how close the beetle-killed trees are from one another, and whether the fire is a canopy (high up in the trees) fire or a ground fire.

This report (note: PDF) is the best summary of the research I've run across. Here is somewhat of a summary from the Denver Post: Bark beetle kill leads to more serious fires, right?

(Note: I am not really an expert in this, but I've been doing a bunch of research on this for an upcoming museum exhibit, and was fairly surprised to find this stuff out.)
posted by heurtebise at 12:30 PM on June 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


Two years ago, a family friend from Colorado told me that global warming was a myth. This is just the beginning.
posted by Chuffy at 12:33 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


you'd think with 'thousands of homes' on fire that at some point the homeowners insurance companies might pitch in with the firefighting efforts if they haven't already...

Maybe it's a bit of red car syndrome but everytime I see natural disasters related to weather I think of the premise that events that used to happen less often are going to happen more often due to climate change.
probably. I was just thinking about this the other day (particularly due to the fpp about the OMG 170 degree highs TED talk)...what happens if ALL of the trees burn? would that smoke out the sun long enough to trigger an ice age? is that how its happened in the past? IIRC the ice ages typically follow right on the heels of global warming and start quickly. It's interesting (and more than a little scary) to think I might get to see the earth both burn and freeze in my lifetime...
posted by sexyrobot at 12:35 PM on June 28, 2012


It didn't snow more than a dusting all winter where my folks are at in Northeast Nebraska. In Kansas, where some of my family still farm, the wheat harvest was done in some places by the time it would traditionally have just been getting rolling.

I was on a cross-country flight in...January, I think, in a window seat, and I was astonished at the lack of snow across such a huge swatch of the middle of the country. Equally depressing was the lack of snow on the Sierra and much of the Rockies.
posted by rtha at 12:38 PM on June 28, 2012


Logging can also affect snow-pack: when upland areas are deforested, the snow doesn't last as long, so there is less runoff for the rest of the watershed.
posted by jb at 12:42 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The High Park Fire up by Fort Collins became the most destructive fire in Colorado history last week, but the fire in CO Springs will likely surpass that shortly. Two of the most destructive forest fires in the state's history raging at the same time. It is crazy.

Photos of the Waldo Canyon Fire, the High Park Fire, and the Flagstaff Fire.

I've seen lots of links to Help Colorado Now for a central list of all the agencies helping with relief efforts for anybody who wants to donate.
posted by lilac girl at 12:44 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I live about 90 miles from the Colorado border, in a town of about 1.5k people. On Tuesday, as the temperature hit 111 F officially (115 a county over to the southeast, the hottest spot in the US that day), a car pulled over a few miles outside of town, overheating. A spark from the car started a fire and the wind took it from there.

The farmers who live in the area had enough of a warning to plow firebreaks around the houses in the fire's path, and the wind didn't turn toward town, so we were lucky, but it is frightening. We're living in an oven.
posted by rewil at 1:07 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of course it's fucking climate change.

I love how the computer models show that climate change is going to produce X and when X happens we say - well who knows! Could be! But we need to study it for a few more decades to see if what we're seeing with our own eyes is actually true!

Truly, we are screwed.
posted by kgasmart at 1:14 PM on June 28, 2012 [21 favorites]


Wow... I've never looked upon southern Alabama / Floridian humidity as a blessing. Until now...
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:15 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


RolandOfEld: “Maybe it's a bit of red car syndrome but everytime I see natural disasters related to weather I think of the premise that events that used to happen less often are going to happen more often due to climate change. I think this is the basis for that thinking pattern and I may have gotten it from a FP post/discussion here on the blue. That sound familiar to anyone else?”

I don't know about that. This fire and fires like it are (ironically) generally caused by the naturally conservationist instincts of humans – such as they are. These are areas that should have burned years ago. Since they didn't, they burn a hundred times hotter now, and they can't be controlled.

Here in New Mexico, the largest fire ever in state history – 465 square miles, more than ten times the size of the 28-acre Waldo Canyon fire up near C Springs – is just dying down. It was less disastrous than it could have been mostly because it was thankfully pretty far from structures and towns; however, it was possible to keep such a massive fire under control and know it wasn't going to leap into other areas because the Whitewater-Baldy area has seen dozens of controlled burns over the years.

It isn't a fun prospect, I know, but we're going to have to learn to burn the forests around our homes and cities regularly if we want to avoid this. That isn't a simple thing.

Anyway, I'm watching this pretty closely. My sister is out of her house in Colorado Springs under an evacuation order; thankfully she's safe, as is everyone else I know up there. I really, really hope we catch a break here.
posted by koeselitz at 1:16 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


These are areas that should have burned years ago. Since they didn't, they burn a hundred times hotter now, and they can't be controlled.

I agree with that because I saw the evidence first hand in Yellowstone National Park with regards to the past policy of "All forest fire is bad! Must prevent and fight!" versus the new policy of "Fire caused by humans is bad! Must prevent that but let other fires burn unless historic buildings or people are in danger!"

Of course not everywhere is a world-renowned national park but I can completely agree that places in Colorado that didn't burn earlier are much more likely to burn catastrophically now. However, I can't help but wonder how much, as stated in the post itself, the other factors like high heat, record low snowpack, and low humidity have to do with things as well.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:23 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


kgasmart: “Of course it's fucking climate change. I love how the computer models show that climate change is going to produce X and when X happens we say - well who knows! Could be! But we need to study it for a few more decades to see if what we're seeing with our own eyes is actually true! Truly, we are screwed.”

Er – how does climate change cause forest fires? I guess arson is a kind of climate change, maybe. And it is true that fires are made much worse when we don't do controlled burns and neglect the necessary work to keep forests from turning into tinder-boxes. But that seems pretty different from pollution and other environmental impacts we've had. I guess they are all related in a deeper sense.
posted by koeselitz at 1:23 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why is Colorado on fire? Climate effects aren’t always as obvious as the weather

1. Snowpack way, way down
2. State is way, way abnormally dry
3. Temperatures - going up
4. "Millions of dead acres of trees," caused in part by...
6. Epic infestation of pine beetles. In large part because...
7. "*Pine beetles thrive when winter temperatures are warmer – cold winter temps are the main thing that kills them.
"*Drought is a huge problem because it hampers trees’ ability to fight off infestations." Meanwhile...

His conclusion:

"In other words, we’re getting warmer. Which is good for pine beetles. Which turns forests into kindling. Especially during drought cycles."

Add to that what's already been mentioned here, the fact that fire prevention methods have only guaranteed more kindling.

You know, everyone wants there to be a bright, straight, red line between climate change ---> extreme weather events. There isn't one. The chain of events/causation is long and complex.
posted by kgasmart at 1:33 PM on June 28, 2012 [30 favorites]


Maybe it's a bit of red car syndrome but everytime I see natural disasters related to weather I think of the premise that events that used to happen less often are going to happen more often due to climate change. I think this is the basis for that thinking pattern and I may have gotten it from a FP post/discussion here on the blue. That sound familiar to anyone else?

People are guilty of that on here. When some crackpot makes the standard "where's your global warming now?" comment on an unseasonably cold day, they get laughed at. Comments about hot days are dismissed as datapoints, and the important thing is the overall trend in temperature. However, instances of extreme weather - floods, tornadoes, fires, are generally agreed to be related to climate change. Isn't it basically the same thing as pointing at a random hot day? I mean it makes intuitive sense, but without a lot of hard data, you can't really state it as fact.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:38 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's a bit of red car syndrome but everytime I see natural disasters related to weather I think of the premise that events that used to happen less often are going to happen more often due to climate change

Finally a Metafilter post I can apply some professional expertise to. I'm an ecologist who studies fire regimes, in particular cyclical and long term shifts in fire occurrence and intensity. Although it should be glaringly obvious. Over the years, a number of indices have been developed to help predict fire behaviour under different meteorological conditions. While intended primarily to describe instantaneous fire severity, they also act as a good proxy for fire frequency, as fire spread rate is directly related to fire severity. These indices do a good job, and they are very sensitive to peaks; extremes of temperature, low humidity, high wind, and longer-term drought. In particular, once you get over a critical threhold of temperature on a day, fire risk increases sharply.

Now have a look at this map I spotted yesterday. It doesn't look pretty.

Er – how does climate change cause forest fires?

By changing what might have been someone dropping their cigarette butt creating a fire that goes out quickly, into a flaming mess, due to higher frequency of high fire-risk days.

...what happens if ALL of the trees burn?

Major, large area forest fires do have a significant smoke impact (look at the south-east asian fires some years ago, or the Australian fires where smoke frequently heads to New Zealand). However, a CO2 feedback effect goes along with that. Burning forests releases more CO2 into the atmosphere. Hence more warming. Hence more fire.
posted by Jimbob at 1:45 PM on June 28, 2012 [25 favorites]


However, instances of extreme weather - floods, tornadoes, fires, are generally agreed to be related to climate change. Isn't it basically the same thing as pointing at a random hot day?

I suppose it could be. I certainly am not a climate scientist and I won't pretend to be expressing anything particularly rigorous here. On the other hand, I have at least the impression that worsening fire seasons, drought, heat waves, storm seasons, etc., are viewed by people doing actual climate science as likely outcomes of climate change. If someone who knows what the hell they're talking about would like to chime in...

...oh, hey Jimbob.
posted by brennen at 1:49 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


kgasmart: “You know, everyone wants there to be a bright, straight, red line between climate change ---> extreme weather events. There isn't one. The chain of events/causation is long and complex.”

This is true. And all of your points are good ones. I wasn't thinking about the bigger picture.

I guess my point more had to do with practical, immediate steps that need to be taken. In a larger sense, it is absolutely true that we need to rein in fossil fuel usage and do what we can do to reduce pollutants. However, it's easy to make those things abstract and end up ignoring them; and there are other things we kind of need to do immediately.

Basically – we need to reduce our massive impact on the environment, we need to work to make sure that globally the negative environmental impact of human beings is lessened drastically, and we need to burn our forests more often. My point is that lots of people are fine with the first two there. But when the Forest Service says "we need to set up a controlled burn above Manitou Springs; it's not far from homes, but it will be completely under control, and there will be very little danger," nobody wants to hear a thing about it. They don't want a fire near their houses, and they'll go to city council meetings and even initiate lawsuits (most of the Forest Service's budget goes to lawsuits now) to stop controlled burns. I guess my point is – at this point, we don't have much of a choice. The forests near our houses are going to burn. The question is when.

And – it is much easier, I think, in our abstract world, to pretend that the only thing causing forest fires is general climate change. But I still believe the primary cause is our unwillingness to make these hard choices and do some difficult things to better manage the forests around us.
posted by koeselitz at 1:50 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Basically – we need to reduce our massive impact on the environment, we need to work to make sure that globally the negative environmental impact of human beings is lessened drastically, and we need to burn our forests more often. My point is that lots of people are fine with the first two there. But when the Forest Service says "we need to set up a controlled burn above Manitou Springs; it's not far from homes, but it will be completely under control, and there will be very little danger," nobody wants to hear a thing about it.

I agree, but I think the first two are also non-starters. As in - sure, everyone theoretically would like to lessen the environmental impact of human beings, but when you get specific about it, as so many on the right point out - that costs jobs! That means regulation! And so the likes of the National Manufacturers Association saying:

The debate to address climate change should take place in the U.S. Congress and should foster economic growth and job creation, not impose additional burdens on businesses.

You know what - that's got a constituency. Unfortunately.

So that's the thing - even if it could somehow be irrevocably proven that climate change is a root cause of all this, we're never going to do a damn thing about it.
posted by kgasmart at 1:57 PM on June 28, 2012


Is someone at least funding city-sized dome research?
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:58 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


kgasmart: “I agree, but I think the first two are also non-starters.”

Well, to be grossly morbid about it, at times like this I get hopeful that we won't have to "hold people's feet to the fire," as it were, to push them to act.
posted by koeselitz at 2:00 PM on June 28, 2012


I wish "times like this" would make people wake up and see. But there's a whole rhetorical/ideological apparatus out there that works very very hard to make sure they don't see. I get a front-row seat to this. My parents spend half their time watching the Weather Channel, the other half watching Fox News. My God, they'll say, all this extreme weather, these wildfires, whatever it is - it's just insane!

And when I say, you know, climate change could have a little something to do with that they say - oh climate change isn't real.

Maybe they're atypical, but it's just like - people are witnessing these things, it's freaking them out, but still they refuse to make the connections.
posted by kgasmart at 2:07 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish "times like this" would make people wake up and see. But there's a whole rhetorical/ideological apparatus out there that works very very hard to make sure they don't see.

It's really depressing, isn't it? I recently went to an open house at a large university's marine science lab, and talked to grad students and professors there about the work they were doing on ocean acidification due to increased atmospheric CO2. I later talked to my aunt about it -- who is generally a very smart, pro-science lady; she teaches high school biology in a very small, very religious and conservative town, and puts up with a lot of crap from students, parents and administrators for unapologetically teaching evolution there. And even her response was that she wished there was somewhere to get unbiased information directly from the scientists, because, according to her, "both sides have an agenda / are so dramatic and there's no way to know what's real".
posted by junco at 2:19 PM on June 28, 2012


And are we related, kgasmart? Flipping between the Weather Channel and Fox News is my dad's idea of a perfect evening.
posted by junco at 2:21 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dry doesn't even begin to describe the conditions here in Colorado. I've seen at least a half dozen fires, personally, since Memorial day. Including a house fire in Eagle that was crazy intense and spread fast and furious to the buildings nearby.

The Waldo Canyon fire has already claimed the homes and belongs of a couple of friends and others are waiting to hear.

The unemployed in the High Park area have been granted immunity by the Colorado Board of Labor & Employment from having to seek employment. I expect the folks in the Springs may also get said reprieve.

Here in Denver it's just as dry. My lawn, which is usually crazy green is struggling even with regular watering. I took part in the voluntary water restrictions, but it started to go so dry that I was worried about sparks myself, so I upped it just enough to get things semi-green.

I was in Target this morning and shaking my head over the fact that they were selling sparklers and whatnot for the upcoming holiday. WTF Target?

You'd think that after living in New Mexico and having been on pre-evac notification a time or two I'd be used to this kind of devastation, but I'm just not. It sucks horribly.
posted by FlamingBore at 2:21 PM on June 28, 2012


Pruitt-Igoe: Isn't it basically the same thing as pointing at a random hot day? I mean it makes intuitive sense, but without a lot of hard data, you can't really state it as fact.

Well, you have to realize, this isn't just 'a fire' or 'two fires'. It's an accumulation of a tremendous amount of damage that has occurred to this area, both through unseasonably warm winters for an extended period of time (allowing beetles to kill vast numbers of trees), and through unseasonably dry conditions for an extended period of time, adding enough additional stress that many trees would be dying anyway, even without beetles eating them.

So, you can't say that climate change caused these fires, because those were individual lightning strikes, and there's no way to predict those. But you can say with a high degree of certainty that Colorado would not have two fires at once, both of which are bigger than any other fire they've ever recorded, if there hadn't been a major shift in Colorado's climate, and we only know of one likely driver for that.

These fires aren't like pointing at a hot day. They're a symptom of a hot decade.
posted by Malor at 2:40 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


THEY don't scare me. And THEY are made up of individuals. Men, women and children who just lost everything they couldn't carry with them.

THEY or anyone else small of mind and spirit can wish upon me whatever they like. I shall continue to have them in my thoughts and heart.
posted by FlamingBore at 2:42 PM on June 28, 2012


[Please do not show up in the middle of a thread about a tragedy and talk about how you are "not sympathetic" It's derailing and sounds trollish. MetaTalk is an option for you.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:52 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah while it's true that "weather isn't climate", and you can't use one hot or cold day as evidence for or against climate change, that's not what's going on here. There is a trend towards a greater frequency of hot days, and towards more severe drought. That's climate.
posted by Jimbob at 2:55 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


> His argument that people must adapt to a warming climate that is certain to one day begin cooling again earned him a standing ovation from the conservatives in the room.

These idiots remind me of Zapp Brannigan on Futurama:

Kif Kroker: It's an emergency, sir.
Zapp Brannigan: Come back when it's a catastrophe.

posted by DJ 3000 at 3:02 PM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


That's like chickens arguing that they can safely ignore the oven, because they're going to be frozen after cooking.
posted by Malor at 3:46 PM on June 28, 2012


And are we related, kgasmart? Flipping between the Weather Channel and Fox News is my dad's idea of a perfect evening.

It's a thing among people in their late 60s/early to mid-70s, I think.

These are the same parents who go on and on about Obama's "socialism" but, when they lost hours at their part-time job, applied for assistance and my mother actually said to me: "Thank God for unemployment."

Those people holding the "Keep your government hands off my Medicare" signs at the tea party rallies? Might as well have been my parents
posted by kgasmart at 4:04 PM on June 28, 2012


From that link upthread courtesy of tittergrrl:

Gray claimed that global warming is really a manufactured idea that’s part of a conspiracy between the mainstream media, the U.S. government and scientists silenced by the threat of losing government grants. All of them, he said, are trying to frighten the public and sell them on the idea of a United Nations-led global government.

You know, I've decided the easiest way to deal with the ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT UN BILDEBERG GROOP GOOGLE RON PAUL people is to simply ask them what is wrong, in principle, with the idea of one world government.

I ask: "What is wrong, in principle, with a world united by one decentralized federal democracy with a constitution based on the principles of world peace, human rights, freedom from hunger or deprivation, a better future for our children, and all kinds of human progress? What was wrong with the vision of the Allies of WWII, who sought to end forever the scourges of history that the Axis represented? Do you prefer a world forever at war with itself? Or are you like de Gaulle, who preferred we go back to a complicated system of military alliances that was so effective at preventing war in 1914?"

I find it leads to either two outcomes, either we agree that in principle, world governance of some kind is a desirable goal, or we agree to disagree that war is either desirable and/or necessary. From there, a conversation either becomes more productive, or ends.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:11 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]




We seemed to have a reprieve here in Colorado Springs today;it was much cooler and there was some rain on the western section of the fire. An hour ago the mayor told us that 346 homes have been destroyed, including those of at least 3 friends of mine. Most people here are pulling together on this. The local Fine Arts Center is storing art for evacuees, food and essentials are pouring in at donation spots for firefighters.
They may be lifting some mandatory evacuations in sections of town, but many still are on standby.
It is difficult to think about the blame for this right now. Maybe I will feel differently in a week or so.
posted by Isadorady at 4:26 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, you can't say that climate change caused these fires, because those were individual lightning strikes, and there's no way to predict those. But you can say with a high degree of certainty that Colorado would not have two fires at once, both of which are bigger than any other fire they've ever recorded, if there hadn't been a major shift in Colorado's climate, and we only know of one likely driver for that.

One half of this is climate-related, and as noted there have been shifts in precipitation patterns, forest cover, etc.

But the other half is our choices about our built environment. All across the west we have been allowing and even encouraging development in fire-prone areas. And that development has been (often by mandate -- the zoning may not allow you to build either more or less densely) almost uniformly low density, retaining enough vegetation to allow fires to spread and making fire fighting far more complicated. A fire out in the woods is something we can, if we want, choose to shrug and let burn. It's a lot harder to shrug and allow dozens or hundreds of houses to burn.

So the climate changes are driving the fires, and the built environment is driving our response. Both are frustrating to watch, but neither are the fault of the poor people losing their houses and having to evacuate.
posted by Forktine at 4:42 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


This gallery of Denver Post photos gives an idea of what we have been through here.
posted by Isadorady at 4:46 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Extreme" heat in the Midwest.
posted by Brian B. at 5:18 PM on June 28, 2012


Here in the western corner of KY, I am right in the middle of that extreme heat. We have heat advisories through the holiday, and on top of that we're in drought conditions. It is dry, dry, dry! There are all sorts of fire warnings and restrictions.

The problem is, in my small town, fireworks on the 4th is a big deal, and they've been on sale in every Wal-mart parking lot and street corner for weeks. Many, many people have traditions of parties and displays featuring fireworks on their property. It's basically unregulated. This is the case in all the towns around here, by the way. In TN, there are even fewer regulations (and many people hear drive the half hour across the border to pick up the heavy artillery for their personal shows).

Most years, it's relatively harmless fun (few injuries here and there from the careless). I fear this year will be different. I've already been hearing the firecrackers, bottle rockets, and mortars in the night as the lead up to the 4th. I know that the ripe conditions for fire won't stop many of them.
posted by gilrain at 5:30 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


self-link for Waldo Canyon Fire information.
posted by j_curiouser at 6:15 PM on June 28, 2012


Here in Eagle we just had a thunderstorm roll through that caused a fire at the extreme North edge of town where there's ranchland. Its been going on for about an hour now and they should manage it but still makes me on edge. We aren't getting a lot of rain at least here in the more mountainy area, just little sprinklings and lightning. Of course we are fortunate that its only been spotty things so far. I do not envy the Front Range.
posted by Phantomx at 6:25 PM on June 28, 2012


Got a little problem with the Colorado Springs fire myself: a data center located in COS. Fire isn't te problem, but air quality apparently is.

Lots of "non-essential" folks being told to work from home or stay away this week.

Bad situation.
posted by grimjeer at 6:36 PM on June 28, 2012


I just moved from New Mexico to Colorado Springs. When I got here didn't realize how dry it was because it still looked so much greener than southern NM. This week has been intense.

A couple videos...
Timelapse of the evening when the fire got down into the city. I live on the other side of 25 but it was like someone was turning lights on and off as smoke swept through. I finally made myself go to bed around 0:50 when I could see more lights from firefighters than flames on our side of the mountain, but I barely slept. I am so grateful for the men and women who were inside that mess and managed to hold it back as well as they did.

Video from inside the affected area. I found this kind of upsetting, honestly, and am not thrilled at how the guy got it (I think just a civilian wandering around with a camera after evacuation orders were put in place, and he actually runs into another guy doing the same thing), but it's an amazing sight.

At (at least) 346 homes, they're calling it the most destructive wildfire in CO history.
posted by waterlily at 6:40 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Before and after photos.
posted by rtha at 7:00 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if it's been noted, but Boulder has been very, very lucky.

If one of the spring windstorms was blowing, the Flagstaff fire would have turned the southern half of Boulder into a big soot mark.
posted by underflow at 8:24 PM on June 28, 2012


This is horrible. I can't imagine.

If I was in the house insuring business, I would require fire riders for houses built in traditional forest fire areas, like homes in flood plains have to have flood insurance.
posted by maxwelton at 10:18 PM on June 28, 2012


The mountains here are mainly lodgepole pine, the ones affected by the beetle infestation. They burn about every century. The WUI (wildlife urban interface, which includes mountain lions snatching pets) is Ponderosa pine. Small ones. That part of the foothills had traditionally been used to burning up every 10-30 years. People have been building there like crazy in the last thirty years.

Do you know what the snowiest months are along the Front Range (from N to S: Ft. Collins, Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Trinidad. And more)? March is #1, April is #2. The weather is a little dry in January, say, to produce big snowstorms. How much did it snow this spring? Close to none at all. Sometimes spring drops several feet of snow around Denver.

When my wife said tonight, "Aren't the trumpet flowers dropping a lot earlier this summer?" it sounded to me like a line from "The Incredible Shrinking Man," a great 50's movie about a guy who eventually (spoiler alert!) escapes his house by leaving through a window screen. Anyway, the first sign that the radioactive fog he'd passed though had affected him was seen in a line like "Honey, did you launder my shirts differently? They seem a little loose."

My wife's comment seemed like a good opening line for yet another end-of-the-world scenario, one triggered by global warming. Stay tuned, folks.
posted by kozad at 10:37 PM on June 28, 2012


There's a metaphor someone used, the climate trains the boxer, the weather throws the punches.
posted by wilful at 11:40 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


My wife is from Colorado and we visited in March. We'd packed for snow and high winds and instead we got 30-35C. Had to buy shorts. For a Scot like myself, those kind of temperatures in March are wacky. There was a (in retrospect now quite small) fire while we were there and all of my wife's family and friends were saying they were dreading June and July.

Our thoughts are with them constantly at the moment.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:14 AM on June 29, 2012


The thing is, you can't point to one extreme weather event and say "without global warming, this wouldn't have happened", but you can definitely point to a huge set and say "without global warming most of these wouldn't have happened."
posted by delmoi at 12:29 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


According to the New York Times Green Blog, research from the U.S. Geological Survey has shown that, over the past 15 years, the Southwestern forests that have been turned to ash by large wildfires have not come back in the same form. Grasses and shrubs are instead replacing these forests, which had grown to be very dense after decades of fire suppression policies. Craig Allen, a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, presented that the ecosystems of the Southwest are transforming because of climate change and shifts in land management. He told the New York Times, “Ecosystems are already resetting themselves in ways big and small.
posted by stbalbach at 7:08 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Colorado NPR is now reporting that a body has been found in the rubble of one of the burned out homes.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:06 AM on June 29, 2012


Grasses and shrubs are instead replacing these forests, which had grown to be very dense after decades of fire suppression policies.

So basically, it's all turning into a great big desert then?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:02 AM on June 29, 2012


And that development has been (often by mandate -- the zoning may not allow you to build either more or less densely) almost uniformly low density, retaining enough vegetation to allow fires to spread and making fire fighting far more complicated. A fire out in the woods is something we can, if we want, choose to shrug and let burn. It's a lot harder to shrug and allow dozens or hundreds of houses to burn.

Not only that but many people built idiotic houses in the interface zones, at least around here. You see log homes with massive windows and fracking cedar shake roofs. Of shake roofs over shake siding and massive windows. Often they'll have large wood decks right up to ajoining trees. Rarely do you see fire resistant homes like brick or stucco (though at least metal roofs are gettign popular).
posted by Mitheral at 10:05 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's been over twenty years since I spent a horrific night with a garden hose on the roof of my home, my pickup truck filled with the most mobile and precious aspects of my life, watching the encroaching brush fire and waiting for the firefighters in my driveway to finally give the evacuation order. I remember it like it was last week.

My little canyon community was lucky, and that evacuation order never came. Particularly heroic were the fire crew from the local prison, who spent the entire night digging the fire break that successfully turned the fire back. It's hard to describe the fear and dread from that night, but it all comes back when I smell burning sage in the distance.

My thoughts are with everyone who finds themselves in a similar situation, and my heart goes out to those who aren't as lucky as I was.
posted by malocchio at 11:03 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Grasses and shrubs are instead replacing these forests, which had grown to be very dense after decades of fire suppression policies.

So basically, it's all turning into a great big desert then?


Well it kinda already is a desert. Most of the area burning is in a transition zone from high country pine forest to pinyon/juniper scrub to grasses/creosote/cactus valley bottom with heavy cover along the (mostly) dry wash that used to be cottonwoods/sycamores to tamarisk (a invasive species). But the average rainfall in most of this area is less than 20" a year and has a LOT of topography to it (meaning it is all hillside) and the elevation changes really influence what grows were.

On a longer timescale than most people think about (meaning longer than what they see-i.e. before the urban landscape developed) the foothill regions all across the southwest were heavily settled, farmed and managed by the pre european populations. After the diseases wiped out this population the vegetation has been in a constant and rapid state of flux depending on the climate which has oscillated rapidly between drought and wet periods. The wet period of the last 200-300 years appears to be ending and switching to a more arid cycle (which may or may not be a anthropomorphic). The last time this happened it cause the collapse of the Anasazi civilization(s).

We CAN'T remove the human influence from the environment. Because we are PART of the environment. It is like saying beaver dams are bad for existing, instead of seeing of how the change the environment. We do need to get better (and fast) about being stewards of the environment we all depend on and are linked to in everything we do. This myth of removing humans from the environment and treating us as some kind of unknown invader from outer space is actually harmful. That is the attitude that led to 100 years of fire suppression in an ecosystem DEPENDENT on fire that is at least as much to blame for the current conflagrations as AGW.
posted by bartonlong at 12:05 PM on June 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


5-day timelapse video

Sincerely recommend sound up, fullscreen. It's largely due to the stress I'm under dealing with this shit for the last week, but I'm balling my eyes out.
posted by 7segment at 2:24 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ok, I take that back. The music is overly bathetic. Still, watch.
posted by 7segment at 2:31 PM on June 29, 2012


It's largely due to the stress I'm under dealing with this shit for the last week, but I'm balling my eyes out.

It's emotional for me to watch videos of it but I can't seem to stop doing it. It's been a strange week. That one reminded me of how I felt when the winds kicked up again on Wednesday afternoon. I got home fast. At least I had a place to go, though.
posted by waterlily at 6:11 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, the sky is alarmingly blue behind the mountains on Tuesday evening. I knew we were inside a cloud of smoke but I didn't realize how much!
posted by waterlily at 6:15 PM on June 29, 2012


Help Colorado. Wild Fire T-Shirts.

T-shirt fundraiser for Colorado wildfire relief takes off.
posted by ericb at 1:11 PM on July 3, 2012




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