Smoke from the Waldo Canyon Fire during sunse
June 27, 2012 --
A wildfire in Colorado Springs has forced the evacuation of 32,000 people from their homes. The cause of the Waldo Canyon Fire, which broke out on Saturday June 23 is still under investigation. As of today the fire has doubled in size to 15,517 acres as 764 personnel fight the flames under rapidly spreading, extreme fire conditions. Shifting winds of 65 mph on Tuesday hampered firefighting efforts and full containment is not expected until July 16. Across the country, 657,614 acres are currently burning under the graze of 37 active large fires, including those set intentionally by forest services to manage undergrowth. So far this year, more than 1.5 million acres have been scorched by the more than 26,000 fires nation-wide. But to put that number in perspective, last year at this time more than 35,000 fires had burned more than 4.6 million across the country, according to the National Fire Information Center. Fire conditions are expected to continue into the summer this season and homeowners in fire-prone areas should have emergency evacuation plans in place. Yesterday, 11 new large fires were reported and several communities in Utah and Montana also had to evacuate. The states currently reporting large fires are: Alaska (3), Alabama (2), Arkansas (1), Arizona (1), California (1), Colorado (7), Montana (7), Nevada (2), New Mexico (3), North Carolina (1), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (1), Utah (3), and Wyoming (4).
Gene Blevins, Corbis
An air tanker on June 16 makes a drop on a 500-plus acre brush fire in Los Padres National Forest, Calif. On June 7, the U.S. Forest Service added four more planes to its firefighting fleet bringing the total number up to 13. Earlier in June, one P-2V crashed while firefighting over mountainous Utah-Nevada border, while another made an emergency landing with one landing gear still retracted. You can watch the video of the amazing job the pilots did during the emergency landing here:
DNews Nugget: More Air Tankers to Fight Fires
Gene Blevins, Corbis
Angeles National Forest firefighters make their way into the 500-plus acre brush fire in Los Padres National Forest, Calif., on June 16.
ANALYSIS: How to Fight a Wildfire
Gene Blevins, Corbis
A forest trees explodes into a huge fireball brush fire in Los Padres National Forest, Calif.
The High Park Fire, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of Fort Collins, Colorado, was discovered just before 6:00 a.m. on June 9, 2012. Started by a lightning strike, the fire quickly grew, fueled by high winds and dry vegetation.
Marc Piscotty, Getty Images
A Sikorsky S-64 Aircrane firefighting helicopter drops water on a hotspot burning close to homes near Horsetooth Reservoir on June 11, 2012, near Laporte, Colo. The High Park Fire in Larimer County continues to burn, having scorched 87,284 acres. Containment as of June 27, was at 65 percent with expectations for reaching full containment by July 30.
NEWS: Firefighters Start to Contain Colorado Inferno
Jesse Allen using data obtained from the Land
Nearly half of the U.S. Forest Services' airborne fire suppression fleet are fighting flames now burning in Colorado. “Current conditions are comparable to 2002 fire season, which was the worst in Colorado history. Fires haven’t burned as many acres at this point, but the drought conditions and fuel conditions are right up there with the 2002 season, if not worse,” reported Tim Mathewson, a fire meteorologist with the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.
ANALYSIS: Worst 21st-Century Fires: Models Say Expect More
Kari Greer, US Forest Services, Corbis
New Mexico has seen the largest wildfire in state history this season with the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in Gila National Forest burning 297,845 acres since May 16, 2012 after a lightning strike ignited the flames. As of June 27, the fire was 87 percent contained, with only 10 personnel continuing to work the containment lines and put the fire to bed.
PHOTOS: After the Dust Settles
The sky is thick with smoke in central Washington, as the state's largest wildfire in recorded history leaves a charred trail of burned homes and blackened trees.
The Carlton Complex Fire began as four separate fires that were triggered by lightning on July 14. Hot and windy weather helped the fire spread, forcing an estimated 1,000 people to evacuate the area. As of today (July 24), the fire is spread over 390 square miles (1,010 square kilometers), or about one-third the size of Rhode Island, said Paul Gibbs, a spokesman for the fire crews battling the wildfire.
Video production company Chelan HD sent out a drone to record aerial footage of the burned landscape. The video features incredible views of the scorched foundations of a house and the smoldering tracks of a railroad. The drone even recorded a family of deer walking through the remains of a forest that the fire had burned to the ground. [See drone cam video of the Washington state wildfire]
Firefighters from across the country — even as far away as Florida — have contained 52 percent of the fire, up from 16 percent the day before, Gibbs told Live Science.
Nearly 3,000 people, including 59 fire crews, 212 engines, 13 bulldozers and five helicopters, are working to battle the blaze. "It's the number one priority in the nation," Gibbs said.
So far, only one death has been reported from the wildfire. A man died of a heart attack from hauling water and digging a fire line to protect his house, the Associated Press reported.
Yesterday (July 23), President Barack Obama announced that Washington could access aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for areas affected by wildfires, according to a statement released by the Department of Homeland Security.
The Carlton Complex Fire is not the only blaze in the state, or even in the Pacific Northwest. A total of 22 fires are burning in Washington and Oregon, reports the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which monitors wildfires and manages efforts to stop them.
High and dry temperatures are partially responsible for the number of blazes. It's possible that extreme dry or wet years due to climate change are affecting the western United States, said Jason Funk, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonpartisan and nonprofit group headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that informs policymakers about scientific research.
"Those extremely dry years can contribute to conditions where forest fires take off," Funk told Live Science.
Since 1970, temperatures across the West Coast have increased by 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius), Funk said. Higher temperatures are, in turn, partially linked to wildfire seasons that can last seven instead of five months. Fires that start later in the season usually encounter drier conditions, raising the likelihood that they will spread quickly and be more intense than blazes that occur earlier in the season, he added.
"Lots of scientific evidence points to the fact that wildfires have become bigger as climate gets warmer overall," Funk said.
In the meantime, lightning this week sparked three new fires that the crews put out, Gibbs said. "There's probably going to be more in the next few days that become discovered," he said. "Sometimes they smolder and it can take a while to detect them."
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