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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Waldo Canyon Superfire: The New Normal

Last week's superfire, the Colorado Springs “Waldo Canyon” superfire, is just a preview of coming fires which will strike not only the US, but countries around the world with increasing frequency in the future. This is according to Peter Fulé as reported by Amy Hubbard in Waldo Canyon is latest super fire; get used to them, expert says:

So-called super fires -- like the fire currently rampaging through the Colorado Springs area, spurring mass evacuations, destroying property and endangering lives -- are not going away.

They will continue to flare up, not just around the U.S. but also around the world and, possibly, become more severe, one expert says.

Peter Fulé, a longtime professor in the school of forestry at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, talked to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday about the "perfect confluence" of factors fueling fires such as Colorado's Waldo Canyon fire.

The blaze is an example of a "crown fire," Fulé said, which spreads -- often at great speed -- through treetops.

In this type of fire, "the fire is burning through the entire tree. The tree is 80 or 90 feet tall, and flames are even higher than that. Firefighters can't even get close to them," he said. Such conditions, when combined with the winds, can hamper aerial firefighting efforts. "It's a very severe type of fire, an intense type of burning."

Even if rain and snow amounts remain the same, he said, warmer temperatures mean more evaporation, drying out the landscape. Individual drought years increase the risk of huge fires: "This winter in Colorado, it was quite dry."

And the future looks only drier and warmer.

"The predictions climatologists are developing for the 21st century don't look any better," Fulé said. With plentiful fuel and warming conditions, super fires likely will continue to ignite.

The fallout will include "loss of life, loss of homes and communities and infrastructure," as well as long-term effects such as soil erosion, flooding, and the invasion of exotic plant species with the death of native species.