(Image source: NPR)
Today, fires raging in the region of West Fork, Colorado exploded through a forest full of pine-beetle ravaged trees, swelled as 50 mph wind gusts fanned the flames, and joined into an immense blaze covering nearly 60,000 acres. The fire swept through miles of drought-ravaged forest at a pace that firefighters described as nearly unprecedented casting thick smoke over a broad swath of Colorado. A murky haze spread out from the blaze, enveloping regions up to 100 miles away, causing cars to use their headlights during daytime.
Under immediate threat from the encircling blazes, the entire town of South Fork was evacuated forcing about 1,000 to flee the area. As of yet, no buildings have been damaged. Highway 160 was also closed due to the encroaching fire.
The West Fork Fire is now the second major forest fire to threaten Colorado this month. Earlier, the Black Forest Fire devoured nearly 400 homes becoming the costliest fire in Colorado history.
A global-warming intensified drought has plagued Colorado since spring of last year. With many areas experiencing near-record dryness, risk of fires is likely to remain high throughout the summer. Currently, more than 44% of the United States is still experiencing drought after more than one year of continuously dry conditions have ravaged much of the US Southwest.
As human caused climate change intensifies, Colorado is expected to see the frequency of wildfires more than double. So, unfortunately, what we are seeing is just the beginning. A rapid mitigation via drastically reducing human greenhouse gas emissions can help to reduce the degree of future harm. Unfortunately, Colorado is probably in for at least some worsening conditions even if the most responsible path toward lowering our contribution to atmospheric carbon is taken.