It’s unlikely that we can attribute damage from wildfires to climate change without including previous suppression and fuel buildup, more houses, changing suppression policies, more human-caused ignitions and so on in the mix of proximate causes. But it’s interesting when people bring it up.
Let’s take a look at this article…from the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Wildfires highlight ‘new norm’
Though different, blazes in Summit and La Plata counties deliver same message about how Colorado must act
The start of the 416 fire north of Durango, as seen from the Glacier Club on U.S. 550.
On the morning of June 12, the sky over Summit County filled with glowing clouds of black smoke in just minutes. Summit County Fire & EMS received hundreds of 911 calls. By midday, thousands had been told to evacuate.
But what seemed like a certain catastrophe was halted by fire breaks built in the years after the pine beetle epidemic. These clear-cuts, which stretch about 500 feet from the subdivisions into the national forest, kept the Buffalo fire at 91 acres. Within five days of the fire starting, containment was at 75 percent.
It has been a different story in La Plata County.
Nine hours after the 416 fire started June 1 north of Durango, it had consumed 1,100 acres. By that Saturday morning, officials reported it had grown to 8,691 acres. Overnight, it exploded, doubling in size to 16,766 acres.
Just 20 percent contained nearly three weeks after it started, the 416 fire is at 32,959 acres. Another wildfire in the area — the Burro fire — has threatened to merge with the 416 fire, growing to 3,484 acres since it started June 11. It remains only 10 percent contained.
While different, the fires in Summit and La Plata counties have the same message for Colorado and the West: there’s no time to waste dealing with climate change and the wildfires it’s fueling.
The new norm’
Once the fire is out, the danger doesn’t end. Denuded burn scars are vulnerable to flash flooding and severe sedimentation, which threaten homes, watersheds and other infrastructure.
While most people rejoiced Saturday when a light rain began to fall in La Plata County, Office of Emergency Management Director Butch Knowlton warned residents not to let their guard down.
“We have totally exposed soils right now with no water retention capability,” he said. “When that water comes, it picks up debris, ash and other floatable material like rocks and branches and dumps it into the lower-lying areas. Those areas are private properties.”
He continued: “It’s critical people be alert and understand that you might not be near the fire perimeter but are still in danger. It’s not a time to be complacent.”
The Forest Service is in contact with emergency rehabilitation specialists and is “ready to ramp up mitigation,” Hooley said.
Beyond the summer, many fear that the pairing of a low snowpack winter and high fire danger summer that is exacerbated by climate change is becoming the new norm.
“If this is an anomalous year, it’s not too big of a concern,” said Stevens-Rumann. “But based on climate projections, this is the new norm.”
Blake said, “We’re absolutely concerned about how climate change will impact Colorado tourism industries. We need to get out in front of it.”
The article also mentions the difficulties of fighting fires in wilderness and roadless areas. Could this be another one of the many causes of large problematic fires.. more Wilderness and roadless?
With exactly the same facts, someone could have written the story without climate change as a cause “to protect the recreation industry we need to get better control of fires in the summer.” The only way to do that is to do fuel breaks a la Summit County and prescribed burning. If the answer is the same in terms of what to do, what difference does it make in this case, what percentage is due to climate change versus the other causes?