UPDATE: What you need to know about Colorado’s wildfires

Currently, there are numerous wildfires spreading throughout Colorado. Here’s what you need to know about the fires and what you can do to help.

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M. Merritt

The sky from Toepfer Park Aug. 11. The sun set at 8pm and appeared to be pink. “I loved the sky lately and the beauty it holds, but of course it’s heartbreaking to know that the cause of it has had so much destruction on our state,” Mandy Fleet ’22 said.

By Maddy Merritt, Rock Canyon High School

Orange, purple, and pink pastels paint the sky. The sun, a bright fuschia orb, makes its way below the horizon. Stunning, right? It’s actually the result of wildfires currently sweeping through the Centennial State, the Pine Gulch Fire in Grand Junction the biggest in the state’s history and at 87% containment. One of these major wildfires, the Cameron Peak Fire, has consumed 102,596 acres of our state as of Sept. 7, according to an 11 News report , and is at 4% containment.

“[The air has] caused my family sore throats and coughing,” Chloe Voss ‘21 said.

According to Gregg Sheehan, Assistant Principal at RCHS and volunteer captain for Genesee Fire and Rescue, the other two major wildfires in the state right now are the Grizzly Creek Fire, at 91% containment, and the Williams Fork Fire, at 10% containment.

“These are the fires that are big enough to where they’re having to use multiple agencies to fight them. For instance, on this Grizzly creek fire in Glenwood Springs, we sent an engine over there from our department [to help with] structure protection to protect homes,” Sheehan said.

There are other wildfires burning in Colorado right now as well, and a full list can be found here.

“I think the sky is super pretty but it’s sad to think it’s coming from so much destruction. Whenever I go outside, it hurts my lungs to breathe and stings my eyes. Especially being an athlete, breathing this in hurts my training,” Paisley Moore ’21 said.

Some of the causes of the wildfires the state faces right now are lightning or human. According to Sheehan, all four major Colorado wildfires are considered Type 1, which means there is local, state-level, and federal involvement, all entities pouring resources into fighting the fire.

“It is worse in the mountains,” AP Language, English IV, and Literature of Film teacher Elizabeth Romito said.  Romito lives in Evergreen. “During this time of year, [the fire danger is] rated ‘extremely high’.”

Colorado’s wildfire season starts in March, according to Sheehan, but the end of the season is primarily dictated by weather conditions, such as humidity, temperature, and wind, and therefore varies each year. Residents wonder if the snowfall Colorado saw Sept. 8 and Sept. 9 was enough to put out the fires.

“[The snow] helps a lot,” Allen Chapman, Fire Science teacher at RCHS said. “[The wildfires] will probably keep burning after the snow even. It’s just so hot and there’s so much fuel that [the fire] just keeps burning. There’s so much of that dry, dead fuel, and it takes a while to get that moisture back into it.”

Fuel moisture is a measurement taken to determine how much water is in the plants, such as grass and trees, that act as fire fuels. When fuel moisture is low, this allows the fires to light more easily. According to Sheehan, Colorado got a lot of moisture in the spring that dried out– the growth of plants this spring is now fire fuel.

The snow provides colder temperatures and higher humidity, juxtaposing the heat and low humidity Colorado has seen recently. However, with the snow comes winds from the weather front that moved in. These winds can allow the fires to progress and change their courses of direction.

Colorado’s recent dry conditions caused the Cameron Peak wildfire to spread quickly, and according to Chapman, there was a lot of fuel for the fire to burn.

“It allows the fire to take off really quick and if you have wind like we had, that pushes the fire really fast too,” Chapman said.

Currently, multiple different approaches are being taken by local and volunteer fire departments to combat the Colorado wildfires. Hotshot crews are digging hand lines and back burning, firefighters are conducting slurry drops from airplanes, and helicopter crews are using water to put out spot fires.

“They’re doing everything,” Chapman said. “It’s a big fire– those flames are huge.”

Colorado is currently under a state-wide fire ban, and up-to-date information on Colorado’s counties’ fire bans can be found here.

What You Can Do

NO OPEN FIRES– The state of Colorado is currently under a fire ban that will last until Sept. 18, according to CDHSEM. This includes not starting campfires.

BE MINDFUL– “A lot of [the wildfires in Colorado] are [caused by] accidents, but a lot of them are [caused by] laziness,” Sheehan said. You can help by not throwing cigarette butts out the window and monitoring your campfires (when the state is not under a fire ban).

DONATE– The Coloradan provides a list of fire departments and local organizations taking donations here.

Fire vocabulary graphic (photo by Maddy Merritt)

This story was originally published on The Rock Newspaper on September 16, 2020.