Drenched East, parched West: Colorado wildfires 2013

The Yarnell Hill Arizona wildfire in and its tragic toll continue to grab headlines, but Colorado remains the state that has suffered the most persistent fire woes this season.

Fourteen wildfires have burned since June 10, causing extensive property damage and displacing thousands of citizens.

The group of fires and their intensity are linked to exceptionally harsh drought conditions. Although Colorado has seen slightly more moisture since the fires began, the heat of summer appears to be keeping the risk of wildfires high.

The approximate combined loss of acreage from all of Colorado’s fires this season is 115,099 acres, or approximately 180 square miles.

Fires mostly/entirely contained

The Big Meadows Wildfire

The Big Meadows Wildfire, which began June 10, burned 617 acres northwest of Boulder. Fire retardant materials were used to tame the flames, and it was 95 percent contained within a week.

But this was only the beginning of the destructive season.

The Black Forest Wildfire

The Black Forest Wildfire, which began June 11, was widely described as the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history.

This statement is based on the acreage burned (around 16,000 acres), the amount of property damage (over 500 homes destroyed), and the number of people it forced to evacuate (around 38,000 at its peak). It mainly affected the Colorado Springs area.

In the picture below taken via satellite on June 12, 2013, the fire had already begun to spread westward from its original location. It was finally 100 percent contained on June 21.

(NASA Earth Observatory)

(NASA Earth Observatory)

So just how big was the Black Forest Fire?

According to the interactive comparison chart on denverpost.com, it was 10737.2 times the size of an NFL football field, and even 1.789 times the size of Orlando, Florida.

By looking at the actual damage – shown on the the denverpost.com interactive wildfire map, it begins to set in as to just how painful this fire was for the residents of El Paso County, CO.

This area near Colorado Springs is no stranger to wildfires. Just last year, there was the notorious Waldo Canyon fire northwest of the city that destroyed more than 300 homes and charred 18,500 acres of land.

Active fires

There are seven active fires: East Peak, Black Forest (contained but still burning), Royal Gorge, Wild Rose, Lillis Lane, West Fork, and Lime Gulch.

The most destructive ongoing fires are part of those in the West Fork Complex in the southern part of the state near Pagosa Springs. The fire is so massive that it can be seen from space and “smoke reached European airspace by June 24th,” writes NASA.

(NASA’s Earth Observatory)

West Fork Complex fire (NASA’s Earth Observatory)

As made visible on the interactive denverpost.com map, the massive West Fork Complex is the product of three wildfires – the Papoose Fire, the Windy Pass Fire, and the West Fork Fire. This creates an extremely dangerous situation as the fires continue to combine and destroy.

At a size of nearly 97,000 acres, the fire is currently seven percent contained. Progress in fighting the fire is being made as most of the mandatory evacuation warnings have been lifted says the Denver Post. But dry weather expected through the end of the week may again enhance the fire’s intensity.

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