Sept. 11, 2020 | By Evan Rao | Image by Grace Nedelman
On Aug. 13, near Cameron Pass and Chambers lake in Larimer County, Colo., the Cameron Peak Fire began. It started out slowly, burning through the surrounding area, before dramatically doubling in size from Sunday through Tuesday. As of now, the fire has expanded to roughly 100,000 acres, quickly seizing the position of the fourth largest wildfire in Colorado history. Worryingly, the fire is listed as under 4% containment, meaning it still poses an extensive threat to people across the region. Several non-mandatory evacuations have been ordered in areas close to the fire, and dozens of trails and roads in Rocky Mountain National Park have been closed.
The scope of the Cameron Peak Fire is massive. 200 miles away, in Aurora, Colo., Anusha Vajrala ’23 said that on the evening of Sept. 8 she saw “ash falling from the sky,” at first mistaking it for pollen before realizing it was from the wildfire.
After a stretch of record high 90-degree days over the past week, it’s no wonder why the fire has spread at such an exponential rate. High temperatures coupled with the fact that roughly 94% of Colorado is in a period of uniquely severe drought created the perfect conditions for a wildfire. Furthermore, a significant increase in pine bark beetles over the past few decades may be contributing to the spread of recent fires. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 7% of all western pine trees have been killed by pine bark beetles, measured over a period from 1979-2012.
Unsurprisingly, dead and dry pine trees are perfect kindling for wildfires. And climate change plays a role in wildfires such as this one, as increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather events have become more common over the past few decades. The most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment has suggested that by the year 2050, large fires (above 50,000 acres) could triple in frequency across the West.
Concerningly, as the Cameron Peak Fire increases in size, four other wildfires are burning across Colorado. According to Fox21news, The Middle Fork Fire and Williams Fork Fire have burned roughly 3,000 and 12,000 acres respectively. The Grizzly Creek Fire is nearing 35,000 acres burned, while the Pine Gulch Fire has burned across a staggering 140,000 acres of land.
On the other hand, the sudden shift from intense heat to wintery conditions across Colorado is projected to have a positive role in reducing the fires. Not only will lower temperatures and snow stifle the existing fires, but damper conditions across the state as a result of the snow will make it more difficult for fires to spread.
Ultimately, the Cameron Peak Fire is far from contained, still posing a grave threat to residents of Larimer County and elsewhere. However, as firefighters gauge the situation after the stretch of cold temperatures and snow subsides, Coloradans hope that the fire will be significantly hindered.