After 100 years of fire suppression, dense forests lead to catastrophic fires.
With more people living in fire prone areas, pressure to save property and the need to let forests burn are at odds, and the cost of fire is rising.
This five-part series explores how the American West is in a fire trap.
This is Year 113 of the U.S. government’s war on wildfire.
Wildfire is winning.
Savvy foresters realized as early as the 1960s that they would lose, and it was better to treat fire as an essential part of the ecosystem instead of a combat opponent.
“You cannot suppress fire in fire-prone vegetation and landscapes indefinitely. All you do is create more fire in the future,” said Rick Trembath of...
Every time a lightning storm rumbles through a forest, the rangers in charge have to decide how to handle the multitude of little fires that start: Smother them quickly, or let them burn out naturally.
But it’s not always a simple choice between two options.
Often, the crew that first responds to a lightning strike will decide on the spot to put the fire out. But if the fire is too remote to reach, or there are too many...
No doubt about it, firefighters say. It's getting hotter.
Wildland firefighters usually cite three main reasons for the recent increase in large, costly fires.
In addition to the buildup of brush and small trees from a century of successful fire suppression, there's also dryness and heat.
A drought that has gripped the West on and off for more than a decade has dried out many of the forests.
A favorite technique of wildland firefighters is to fight fire with fire.
They will find a safe barrier such as a river or a road and then light a backfire in the path of the main blaze, depriving it of fuel.
But when Rick Trembath, a veteran Montana firefighter, came to Durango to help manage the Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002, he couldn't use the technique.
“You couldn't burn out from a control line, because we...
When big fires destroy neighborhoods, they seem to roar through the streets like a lion.
But Keith Worley knows they actually scurry into houses like a mouse.
Worley, president of Pikes Peak Wildfire Prevention Partners, has had too much experience with suburban wildfire the last two years.
In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs destroyed 346 homes, a Colorado record. The record...
DENVER – Several members of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration are pushing for a statewide code to require homeowners in wildfire-prone areas to create defensible space around their houses.
But local governments and homebuilders are fighting the effort.
Hickenlooper created a task force on wildfire and insurance issues at the beginning of the year, and the group is trying to finish its report by...
Even as massive wildfires are teaching the Western United States just how dangerous an overgrown forest can be, the Obama administration has proposed steep cuts to the budget for removing hazardous fuels.
The move has infuriated Western senators and pulled off a near impossible trick in Washington – uniting Democrats and Republicans.
“Most people in the West are saying, ‘They cut what?’” said Lynn...
Two recent fires in Southwest Colorado were so dangerous that firefighters had no choice but to break the national habit of quickly putting out fires.
Faced with rugged and remote terrain, the Forest Service approached this year’s West Fork Complex of fires and last year’s Little Sand blaze with a hands-off attitude, protecting human settlements while letting the backcountry burn.
Their strategy just might point...
WOLF CREEK PASS – To anyone who could have withstood the thousand-degree heat on June 20, a ravine above the Big Meadows Campground would have been a blur of orange, yellow and red as the West Fork Fire raced through.
Today, it is all pink, black and green, with the burned sticks of the spruce trees hanging above a carpet of fireweed in bloom.
It has been a long, long, long time since anyone saw these colors...
Most recent articles on wildfire in the west
Crews will continue to check the burn area, but now that the Coal Gulch Fire is 95 percent contained, the bulk of the firefighting is over.
“They will be checking over the next couple of days to make sure no hot spots flare up,” said Fire Marshal Karola Hanks of the Durango Fire Protection District.
The fire is...
The Coal Gulch Fire was 90 percent contained as of Monday night.
The fire was reported late Saturday afternoon about a half mile north of U.S. Highway 160 just west of Lightner Creek Road (County Road 207). It’s burning in the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area.
The fire grew to 5.8 acres in the first two hours, and held at...
The Coal Gulch Fire, which broke out Saturday afternoon west of Durango in the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area, was listed as 75 percent contained Sunday night.
The fire has burned about 5.8 acres on state land half a mile north of U.S. Highway 160, west of Lightner Creek Road (County Road 207), since it was reported at 4:19 p.m.
Firefighters battled a wildfire Saturday west of Durango in the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area.
The fire, called the Coal Gulch Fire, was reported at 4:19 p.m. about a half mile north of Highway 160 just west of Lightner Creek Road (County Road 207), said Justin Moore, assistant manager of the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center in...
By 4:30 p.m. Sunday, the Black Ridge Fire that swept across 78 acres of piñon and juniper in southern La Plata County was 100 percent contained, county officials announced Monday.
The fire broke out Wednesday, announcing its arrival with a plume of smoke visible for miles. By Thursday evening, pre-evacuation orders for neighboring...
A red flag warning is in effect Sunday in all of western Colorado and much of southeast Utah due to expected highs in the 90 degrees, winds of 15 to 25 miles per hour with gusts up to 40 and humidity dipping into the single digits, according to the National Weather Service website.
Because of the red flag warning, the Durango Fire...
As of Friday evening, the Black Ridge Fire was 80 percent contained, but no personnel had been released as crews face critical fire weather conditions Saturday, officials said.
The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for most of western Colorado for Saturday, including Durango – where Saturday’s forecast...
Two new fires were reported Thursday in the region, one near Durango and another on Ute Mountain Ute Land.
They came on the heels of three fires that ignited Wednesday and add to the workload of firefighters in Southwest Colorado.
“Yesterday put some stress on the system,” Bruce Evans, chief of Upper Pine Fire...
9 a.m. update
As of 6:30 a.m. Thursday, the 78-acre Black Ridge Fire had 80 percent of its perimeter lined with fire retardant dropped from the air Wednesday evening.
It is estimated to be 20 percent contained by fire lines created by hand crews and dozers, and about 50 firefighters are working to fully contain the blaze and an...
The Black Ridge Fire ignited Wednesday afternoon on Southern Ute land in southern La Plata County. Here’s the latest:
Residents in the Rancho Durango subdivision are safe to stay in their homes Wednesday night, Scot Davis, spokesman for the Durango Fire Protection District, said in a 7:35 p.m. release. However,...
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., on Wednesday introduced a bill to provide more money for wildfire mitigation and prevention.
The Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act, which Bennet co-sponsored with senators Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Jon Tester, D-Montana and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, would treat wildfires the same as other...
Seasonal wildland firefighters left Durango Wednesday to help with the growing Hayden Pass Fire near Coaldale.
The Upper Pine Fire Protection District also sent a firefighter to help, and other Durango firefighters are assisting at the Beaver Creek Fire near the Wyoming border.
The seasonal Brush 32 crew left town around noon on...
The fire risk for Southwest Colorado will increase beginning Sunday as a storm bringing stronger winds is expected to move into the sun-baked region.
“The chances are very good we’re going to issue a red flag warning for Sunday,” said meteorologist Joe Ramey of the Grand Junction office of the National Weather...
Fire restrictions will begin Friday in much of the Four Corners, including on San Juan National Forest lands south of U.S. Highway 160.
Local governments and the Forest Service implemented the restrictions because recent hot temperatures have dried vegetation, especially at lower elevations, and provoked several wildfires in June.