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Power of Experience

My family owns property in an area of Northern Colorado which was seriously threatened by the 2020 Cameron Peak Fire.  The Cameron Peak Fire, the State of Colorado’s largest fire in history, burned 208,913 acres of Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests in Northern Colorado’s Larimer and Jackson Counties between August 12, 2020 and January 12, 2021.

The preceding photo of Northern Colorado’s Cameron Peak (upper) and East Troublesome (lower) Fires, was taken on October 22, 2020, by NASA’s Operational Land Imager from Landsat 8.  As described on the NASA Earth Observatory Website, this photo represents an “image combining shortwave infrared, near-infrared, and green light (bands 7-5-2) to show active fires (bright red), scarred land consumed by fire (darker red), and intact vegetation (green).”

Our five-month long Cameron Peak Fire experience, consisting of attending many daily online briefings conducted by US Forest Service incident management teams, moving of possessions, multiple evacuations, conversations with friends whose homes were similarly threatened or destroyed, monitoring the fire’s progress, supporting heroic firefighters, and generally witnessing and feeling the tremendous force of the fire, proved an unforgettable, powerful experience.

As described within an ArcGIS StoryMap Summary, “on the Cameron Peak Fire, extreme temperatures, low humidity, rough terrain and gusty winds reaching over 70 miles per hour were just some of the elements that contributed to extreme fire behavior and rapid rates of spread.  A major contributing factor to the large fire growth was the tremendous amount of beetle kill trees and the drought-stricken Ponderosa Pine, Engelmann Spruce and mixed conifer stands available as fuel.”

The Cameron Peak Fire is believed to have been human-caused but it remains under investigation.

The Cameron Peak Fire burned over 70,000 acres in the span of three days – between September 5, 2020 and September 7, 2020 – see following fire progression map – which presents the fire’s track through October 18, 2020.

 

 

Concurrent with the Cameron Peak Fire, and situated to the southwest of that fire, the East Troublesome Fire burned 193,812 acres between October 14, 2020 and November 30, 2020.  The East Troublesome Fire concluded as the second largest fire in State of Colorado recorded history.

As reported in a Colorado Newsline Article, “unprecedented in speed and scope, the East Troublesome … tore through forests turned into tinderboxes by a cascade of destabilizing climate impacts.  It followed one of the area’s driest late-summer periods on record – in the 21st year of a drought worse than any that the Southwest has experienced in half a millennium.  It was fueled in large part, by dead timber — millions of lodgepole pines left ghostly and desiccated by a decades-long bark beetle epidemic.”

In less than two days, between midday October 21, 2020 and late October 22, 2020, the East Troublesome Fire ran 25 miles and burned 150,000 acres!  Fifty-seven percent (57%) of land cover burned during the East Troublesome Fire consisted of evergreen forest – see following map.

The East Troublesome Fire burned approximately 10% of the Colorado River Headwaters Watershed.  The fire is believed to have been human-caused but it also remains under investigation.

Concurrent with the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires, from September 17, 2020 to January 4, 2021, burned Southern Central Wyoming’s Mullen Fire.  The Mullen Fire burned 176,878 acres through the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest – within Southern Wyoming’s Carbon and Albany Counties and Northern Colorado’s Jackson County.  I recall wondering in early October of 2020, upon announcement of the Mullen Fire’s entry into Northern Colorado, whether a potential three fire conflagration would combine to burn the entirety of Northern / Northeastern Colorado’s national forests.

Mullen Fire photo taken by Justin Hawkins of U.S. Forest Service.

The Mullen Fire’s origin remains under investigation though initial reports included suggestions the fire’s source was man-made.  Whether the immediate, igniting sources of the Cameron Peak, East Troublesome and Mullen Fires were human, mankind’s connection to climate change, in this geographic instance (in the primary manner of prolonged drought), served as a primary facilitator for these events.

Actual event experience seems to prove overly-crucial to inspiring climate action – at least among American citizens – see following table summarizing March 2022 Gallup poll.

Note
Affected ByAffected ByDifference
ExtremeExtremePercentage
WeatherWeatherPoints
Worry "a great deal" about global warming633330
Believe global warming effects "have already begun to happen"785127
Believe seriousness of global warming "generally underestimated" in the news593029
Say global warming will pose a "serious threat" to their way of life643628
Say they understand global warming issue "very well"332310
Say government doing "too little" to protect environment674819
Prioritize environmental protection over economic growth674720

Note that the very title of the Gallup article is “Extreme Weather Has Affected One in Three Americans”.  This ratio coincides with Yale University’s 2021 Climate Change Communication survey reporting that 33% of Americans are “Alarmed” with respect to global warming.  If it is motivated citizens that compel politicians and regulators, and provoked consumers that eventually determine the fate of commercial enterprises, must we essentially rely upon one in three affected Americans to alter our path?  Does over reliance upon direct experience push us closer to the precipice?  It seems we are effectively making a bet against time – yet time is of essence.

Lastly, speaking of experience, please take a look at the following video which captures a moving Cameron Peak Fire orphan rescue and rehabilitation.