Colorado Fires: Waldo Canyon Wildfire Spreads

 @KukilBora
on June 28 2012 7:28 AM
Colorado Springs Fire
A firefighting helicopter approaches the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado. Reuters

Colorado's devastating Waldo Canyon wildfire that has burnt down over 6,500 acres of dry timber since Saturday grew ferocious on Wednesday, spreading to an area of 67 square kilometers (26 square miles), while increasing the threat for over 20,000 homes and other buildings.

As more than 1,000 firefighters are trying to control the raging flames, mandatory evacuations for the Waldo Canyon Fire were expanded Wednesday to include the town of Crystola and the south and east sides of Woodland Park.

At an afternoon news briefing, fire officials said that wind was a big factor in fighting the blaze on Wednesday.

I hate wind ... Wind is big factor in how we do this fire. It won't stay in the same place. The winds keep shifting on us, Incident Commander Rich Harvey said.

The pictures running on local television overnight on Wednesday showed flames that shot up the length of the Blodgett Peak ridge. According to a spokeswoman for the Colorado Springs fire department, the flames at one point blew past the fire lines, The Guardian reported.

Neighborhoods north and west of the city were shrouded in smoke. Some were deserted after authorities expanded their evacuation orders, blocking off main roads with patrol cars, said the report.

As many as 32,000 people have reportedly been evacuated from their homes, while over 300 are in the five Red Cross shelters.

A team of Denver firefighters, called in to help battle the Waldo Canyon fire, told CBS affiliate KCNC that an estimated 300 homes have burned to the ground.

The sky was red, the wind was blowing really fast and there were embers falling from the sky, Simone Covey, a 26-year-old mother of three, who fled an apartment near Garden of the Gods park and was staying at a shelter, told CBS News. I didn't really have time to think about it. I was just trying to keep my kids calm.

We're the last stop to Armageddon, a server at a Starbucks close to the evacuation zone told The Guardian in jest. Every time they are told to evacuate they stop in here at the window for a caramel frappuccino.

Meanwhile, the White House has announced that President Barack Obama will tour the Colorado Springs area Friday to survey the damage and thank responders battling some of the worst fires to hit the American West in decades.

According to Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey, Obama's visit to Colorado would not tax the city's already-strained police force. Gov. John Hickenlooper said he expected the president to sign a disaster declaration, allowing for more federal aid.

A Reuters report said that the Air Force was dispatching up to 25 military helicopters, besides the four giant C-130 air tankers already devoted to the effort. In addition, over half of federal firefighting resources have also been deployed in Colorado.

The Waldo Canyon Fire has grabbed the attention of many because of its proximity to landmarks such as the famed mountaintop of Pikes Peak and the Air Force Academy.

Colorado wildfires had consumed 181,426 acres by Wednesday afternoon, the Colorado Division of Emergency Management said. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the largest of the fires was the High Park Fire, which began June 9 and has now consumed 87,284 acres, CNN reported.

Super Fires Not Going Away?

According to one expert, the so-called super fires - like the one currently going wild over the Colorado Springs area - are not going away. They will continue to burn, not just around the U.S. but also around the world and could become even more severe.

Peter Fulé, a longtime professor in the school of forestry at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that Colorado's Waldo Canyon fire is an example of a crown fire that spreads, often at great speed, through treetops.

Fulé said that in this type of fire, the fire burns through the entire tree. The tree is 80 or 90 feet tall, and flames are even higher than that. Firefighters can't even get close to them.

It's a very severe type of fire, an intense type of burning, he said.

Explaining the reason for these super fires, Fulé said that it is the climate change that has brought warming conditions over the last couple of decades -- meaning longer fire seasons, starting early in the spring and extending late into the fall.

It doesn't matter whether rain and snow amounts remain the same or not, warmer temperature would result in more evaporation and eventually drying out the landscape.

This winter in Colorado, it was quite dry, Fulé said.

However, he didn't suggest a doomsday scenario and mentioned a few things that can help combat super fires.

Thinning smaller, younger trees from forests and using proscribed burning can greatly reduce the chance of a super fire. Even treating a portion of a landscape -- not necessarily 100% of a 2 million-acre national forest but perhaps 25%, 30% [or] 40% also makes a big difference, the Los Angeles Times quoted Fulé as saying.

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