‘We are out of time:’ Destructive wildfires in Colorado will grow worse as season lengthens, scientists warn

  • Wildfire season in Colorado would normally be nearing its end by now.
  • Instead, dry conditions fueled what’s now become the state’s largest wildfire in history.
  • The unusually late and intense fire season in Colorado is part of a larger problem of worsening destruction fueled by climate change.
  • The wildfire season in the West is now 78 days longer than it was in the 1970s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.



a person is sitting in the snow: A firefighter is silhouetted as Cameron Peak Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado's history, burns outside Drake, Colorado, U.S., October 17, 2020.


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A firefighter is silhouetted as Cameron Peak Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado’s history, burns outside Drake, Colorado, U.S., October 17, 2020.

Wildfire season in Colorado would normally be nearing its end by now. Instead, dry conditions fueled what’s now become the state’s largest wildfire in history.

The Cameron Peak fire, which ignited in August, is still raging through the state, burning more than 200,000 acres and further straining already an under-resourced emergency response grappling with uncontained blazes throughout the West.

In late October, Colorado would typically experience some snowfall in the mountain regions. But dry weather and little rain, conditions exacerbated by climate change, have triggered explosive fires that have forced thousands of people to evacuate.

Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist who lives in Boulder, watched in shock as blazes and fire tornadoes from the CalWood fire tore out of the Rocky Mountains over the weekend, scorching miles of land in a matter of hours.

“To be that close to a wall of flames, it looks like the end of the world,” said Swain, who has witnessed and studied many Western wildfires but has never seen one spread so quickly.

“It’s completely overwhelming,” he added.

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Fires have burned more than 400,000 acres in Colorado during one of the worst fire seasons ever in the state. To the south, the East Troublesome fire and the Williams Fork fire are still burning, as well as the CalWood fire near Jamestown.

Fighting the Cameron Peak fire alone has cost at least $96.4 million, according to an Oct. 22 National Interagency Fire Center report.

“Climate change is here and now in Colorado,” said Jennifer Balch, director of the Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Warming is setting the stage for a lot of burning across an extended fire season.”



a truck driving down a dirt road: A Loveland Fire Rescue Authority vehicle is seen as Cameron Peak Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado's history, burns trees outside Drake, Colorado, U.S., October 17, 2020.


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A Loveland Fire Rescue Authority vehicle is seen as Cameron Peak Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado’s history, burns trees outside Drake, Colorado, U.S., October 17, 2020.

The unusually late and rapidly intensifying fire season in Colorado is part of a larger problem of worsening fire destruction in the West.

‘We are out of time’

The 2020 season, fueled by climate change and outdated forest management plans, has taken a major toll on states like California, Washington and Oregon.

Scientists have repeatedly warned that the fires, along with other climate-fueled disasters, will continue to grow larger and more destructive as global temperatures rise and the country

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