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Rising Temperatures and Drought Fuel Largest Fire in Colorado History

Residents brace for a season of more harsh blazes as heat reaches new records

Sarah Lazare, staff writer

(AP Photo)

The largest fire in Colorado history continues to rage today as scientists warn that global warming will lead to bigger and more frequent blazes.

The Black Forest Fire has so far claimed two lives and 379 homes and forced the emergency evacuation of 38,000 people. The U.S. military, national guard, and over 750 firefighters have been called in to fight the flames that stalled at 25 square miles on Friday.

While the cause of the fire is unknown, drought and heightened Colorado temperatures hastened its spread.

Yet, the danger zone extends far beyond the fire's destructive path.

The New York Times reports that communities throughout the West face threatening conditions:

After years of drought and a dry winter, communities across the West have been bracing for a brutal summer wildfire season. Thousands of acres are burning in California, and several wildfires erupted in Colorado and New Mexico, burning through a national park, sage and juniper hills and the once-idyllic community of Black Forest.

A February USDA report directly points to global warming as the real culprit behind increasing wild fires that will only worsen as temperatures continue to rise.

This warning is echoed by scientists and scholars. Mother Jones reports:

Big wildfires like Colorado's thrive in dry air, low humidity, and high winds; climate change is going to make those conditions more frequent over the next century. We know because it's already happening: A University of Arizona report from 2006 found that large forest fires have occurred more often in the western United States since the mid-1980s as spring temperatures increased, snow melted earlier, and summers got hotter, leaving more and drier fuels for fires to devour.

Thomas Tidwell, the head of the United States Forest Service, told a Senate committee on energy and natural resources recently that the fire season now lasts two months longer and destroys twice as much land as it did four decades ago. Fires now, he said, burn the same amount of land faster.

Meanwhile, Colorado residents fear that this fire threatens a repeat of last year's particularly destructive fire season, as Denver met a new record of the earliest day in the year to reach 100 degrees.


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