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About that High Park fire

Posted by Richard on June 12, 2012

The High Park fire in the mountainous regions west of Fort Collins, CO, actually began with a lightning strike last Wednesday, according to the experts. But it smoldered unnoticed until Saturday morning when increasing winds caused it to flare up and be noticed. At that time, it covered 2 acres.

By late Saturday afternoon, it had burned an estimated 5,000 acres. Some climbers on the summit of Longs Peak recorded this video of the smoke plume (along with a nice shot of a marmot):

[YouTube link]

By Sunday evening, the fire had consumed 20,000 acres. As of early Monday evening, it was 41,000+ acres, the third-largest fire in recorded Colorado history. Over 2,000 residences have been evacuated, one resident is believed dead, and over 120 structures are known to have been destroyed. In a poignant moment described by Gov. John Hickenlooper, firefighters trying to protect the historic Prairie Stove School in the path of the flames looked up the hill to see their own homes being consumed by the flames.

So how did this fire grow so incredibly fast? The news media, the governor, and the experts talked mostly about the dry spring, low humidity, and high winds. Those are certainly major factors. As usual, some people will blame “climate change.” But I think there are two other major culprits: insects and environmentalists. The former are mentioned in passing, the latter are never mentioned.

The pine bark beetle began invading and killing Colorado’s lodgepole pine forests back in the 1990s. By 2008, it was estimated to have infested 1.5 million acres, including the portions of Larimer County west of Fort Collins that were hit by two smaller fires (5-6,000 acres) earlier this spring and are now being devastated by the High Park fire. By last fall, the estimate was up to 3 million acres.

Since early in the beetle epidemic, logging companies have offered proposals to cut dead and infested trees in order to limit spread of the beetle and reduce the risk of massive dead-tree-fueled wildfires. They’ve had some limited success in getting permission for such cutting, but have been opposed by environmentalists every step of the way. The environmental groups insist that letting the beetles kill the trees is natural, letting the dead trees stand is natural, but letting human beings cut them down, remove them, and turn them into construction lumber or pellet stove fuel is unnatural. To radical environmentalists, anything that non-humans do is natural and anything that humans do is unnatural — to them, we humans are, unlike all other living creatures, not a part of nature.

My heart goes out to those who’ve lost their homes and to the family of apparent victim Linda Steadman. But although it may sound cruel, I have to say to those residents of the area who were members of Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, and similar groups: You helped bring this onto yourselves. You chose to value pine bark beetles and the “naturalness” of dead trees more than the needs of humans. You have reaped what you have sown.

There are millions more acres of dead lodgepole pines in Colorado. Many more of those acres will, IMHO, go up in flames in the future. Because radical environmentalists have prevented them from being harvested.

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