Apr 9, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Claire Barber | Photo by Anil Jergens

The haze of COVID-19 vaccines and the sheer volume of political and social dilemmas (can we stop and think for a second that this country had an attempted coup on Jan. 6) in this past year has personally thrown me for a loop. The sheer amount of “historic events” is enough to make your brain melt. But I’m here to have you rewind and remember another terrifying chapter to hell from year 2020: the fire season.

2020 was a record-breaker for the American West: 2 million acres of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West burned. Colorado and California saw some of the worst wildfires in their history (by area). In Colorado alone, 2 fires — Pine Gulch and Cameron Peak — vied for the infamous title of largest in state history: Cameron Peak won at 208, 913 acres, burning for 112 days.

Colorado College students, in partnership with The State of the Rockies Project, have curated a gallery exhibit showcasing images from the 2020 fire season titled Orange Skies. The project is a striking collection of photography: a catalog of terrifying, breathtaking snapshots from residents, professional photographers, firefighters, and many others.

Climate warming and fire suppression techniques have worsened fire conditions for the foreseeable future to what the project dubs “mega-fires.”

According to the project, “over the past century, human alteration of the natural fire regime, combined with removal of water from forests, a warming climate, and years of severe drought have shifted fire behavior from low-intensity fires toward regional fires that cause greater ecological and social impacts.”

This statement — and 2020’s fire season — fall in line with research and statements collected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC: “Several authors suggest that climate change is likely to increase the number of days with severe burning conditions, prolong the fire season, and increase lightning activity, all of which lead to probable increases in fire frequency and areas burned (Price and Rind, 1994; Goldammer and Price, 1998; Stocks et al., 1998).”

With Orange Skies, the public gets a new, curated glimpse of the fiery reality of the Rocky Mountain West. Patrons can virtually “walk” through the exhibit at their own pace or watch a narrated gallery tour that gives you a brief history and rundown of the relationship between humans and fire through time.

While many at CC experienced the 2020 fire season personally, Orange Skies gives us the chance to contemplate and revisit, to view as Orange Skies puts it: “nature’s own rebalancing towards a new equilibrium.”

The exhibit will open at the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum later this April.

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