Story at a glance
- The East Troublesome Fire and the Cameron Peak Fire are two of the worst fires recorded in Colorado history.
- Experts say that a combination of weather patterns and climate change is behind the deadly flames.
The 2020 wildfire season has already broken records in classically hot and dry California, but nearby states are also seeing historic blazes this year.
Colorado, in particular, is dealing with several record-breaking fires. The Guardian reports that since May, 624,000 acres have been burned by various wildfires, which also killed two people and damaged more than 550 buildings, totaling upwards of $195 million in damages.
Multiple areas have been placed under mandatory evacuation orders, with some beginning to ease as firefighters gradually contain the flames.
“From all recent observations we have of wildlife seasons, this one is off the charts,” Becky Bollinger, a climatologist and drought specialist at Colorado State University, told reporters.
State data show that there are at least six fires currently burning throughout the state, with most west of Denver. Two of the more destructive incidences are the East Troublesome Fire and the Cameron Peak Fire.
The Cameron Peak Fire is the largest in state history, according to The Denver Post, with state data revealing it has scorched 208,663 acres so far and is 64 percent contained as of Oct. 29. The fire began on Aug. 13.
The East Troublesome Fire, started on Oct. 14, is catching up to the record-breaking Cameron Peak Fire as it sears through 193,774 acres as of Oct. 29, at only 32 percent containment. It is now the second largest wildfire in state history.
Both fires are considered products of various unfavorable weather conditions, including strong winds, dry conditions and hot temperatures to exacerbate existing dry fuel loads like grass, sage and lodgepole pine.
Officials have not determined exactly how the fires were started.
Poor atmospheric conditions have also stoked many of the rampant California wildfires, although faulty electrical equipment is suspected to be involved. Much of the Western U.S. states are also experiencing extreme droughts, and weather data from September revealed it was the hottest September on record, setting up conditions for wildfires to ignite.
“The weather drives the fire and the fire changes the atmosphere that in turn feeds back on the fire,” Janice Coen, an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, told the press.
The Guardian also notes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has registered western fire seasons as 78 days longer than they were in the 1970s.
While the weather conditions and dead flora serve as ample fuel for wildfires, experts are also concerned that human-driven climate change is resulting in more deadly fires.
“Individual things like a bad hurricane season, bad flooding or bad wildfires are not that surprising because literally every climate scientist predicted these things would happen,” Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a senior research associate at the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, told NBC News. “But seeing all these things happen in one year — in some cases, simultaneously — is shocking and does make me worried about what the next 10 years are going to look like.”