Story at a glance
- A severe drought coupled with high wind speeds and hot temperatures have propagated two major Colorado wildfires.
- Experts say this is evidence of climate change.
The 2020 wildfire season has devastated not only parts of California, but Colorado has also reported — over Wednesday night and Thursday morning — that the East Troublesome fire grew from 19,000 acres to 125,000 over the span of 12 hours, primarily thanks to wind speeds of about 60 miles per hour.
CBS reports that it is now the fourth biggest fire in Colorado history.
This year has seen a disproportionate amount of ravenous wildfires. Earlier, the Cameron Peak fire was the second fire in 2020 to take the title of the largest wildfire in Colorado state history, with the Pine Gulch fire coming in close second after burning 139,000 acres over the summer.
This means that three of the top four largest wildfires in Colorado history have occurred in 2020.
Usually, colder temperatures and snowfall help hinder such blazes, according to fire scientist Jennifer Balch.
High wind speeds and a severe lingering drought affecting parts of the western U.S. have only helped propagate the spread of cataclysmic wildfires. The Associated Press reports that these fires have burned the second-most acreage since 2000.
“We don’t see October fires that get this large,” she told reporters.
Other experts concur, and say the destructive 2020 wildfire season is evidence of climate change.
Even as a scientist studying extreme weather & wildfire in a warming climate, I was shocked by how fast #CalwoodFire roared down the Colorado Front Range foothills this afternoon. This is footage of one of several large fire vortices I observed while leaving area. #COwx @nplareau pic.twitter.com/9yJRdNo14X— Daniel Swain (@Weather_West) October 18, 2020
A letter to the editor published in Global Change Biology wrote that the “staggering” 2020 wildfire season has resulted in more than 2.5 million acres burned as of Sept. 31. CBS reports that the authors found that the “[r]ecord-setting climate enabled the extraordinary 2020 fire season in the western United States.”
Balch’s observations support this, noting that in the 2010s, Colorado saw triple the average burned area in October compared to three decades of previous fire data.
"Our 2020 wildfire season is showing us that climate change is here and now in Colorado. Warming is setting the stage for a lot of burning across an extended fire season," Balch stated.
Colorado’s recent extreme climate conditions — including an average temperature increase and more frequent droughts will only continue to propagate rapid wildfire spread.
“We anticipate another day of large fire growth,” Noel Livingston, leader of the fire stabilization efforts, during a press conference Thursday, per Axios.
Local outlets report that as of Thursday, 6,500 homes have been listed in an evacuation zone for the East Troublesome Fire. Between this blaze and the nearby Cameron Peak Fire, state resources are stretched.
“We do not have enough resources to completely envelop this fire. These are very large fires so we're in a defensive mode trying to protect what we can," Scott Jalbert with the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center told press.