Firefighters in Western U.S. states struggled to contain out-of-control wind-stoked wildfires on Saturday as summer temperatures mounted, and a fresh blaze consumed more homes in Colorado even as Utah allowed 2,500 evacuees back for the night.
Colorado firefighters remained unable to halt the spread of the High Park Fire, a growing 81,190-acre blaze in steep canyons west of Fort Collins. The fire jumped containment lines on Friday and roared through a subdivision, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents…
As firefighters focused on that monster blaze, a fire that erupted 18 miles away in a cabin near the Rocky Mountain National Park ripped through 21 vacation dwellings and full-time residences in Estes Park, the area’s fire chief said…
In Denver, a dense canopy of gray smoke could be seen drifting east from the fire zone over Colorado’s high plains, at times blocking the view of the mountains, and the smell of burning timber wafted through the city.
The High Park fire is blamed for the death of a 62-year-old grandmother who perished in her mountain cabin. It is already the state’s most destructive and the second-largest on record in Colorado.
As of Friday, there were 15 large, uncontained wildfires being fought across the country, most in six Western states – Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona – the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported…
The biggest by far was the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in New Mexico, that state’s largest on record, which has charred almost 300,000 acres. That blaze is nearly 90 percent contained.
As federal authorities confront the destructive start of what threatens to be one of the fiercest wildfire seasons in memory, they are relying on a fleet of ancient planes converted from other purposes to do the dangerous, often deadly, work of skimming the smoldering treetops to bomb fires with water and flame retardant.
The contractor-owned planes, refurbished from military use and leased by the United States Forest Service, have been hobbled by accidents and mechanical problems, leading to growing safety concerns and calls for a major overhaul. A decade ago, the government had 44 large tanker planes at its command. Now, with fires raging from California to Colorado to Wyoming, the regular fleet is down to nine.
Modern airplanes are available, some able to skim up a bellyful of water from a lake without even stopping to land and thus to conduct dozens of drops a day, but these are too expensive for the private contractors who fly the forest missions…
“We’ve failed to invest,” said James E. Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, who led a blue-ribbon panel that examined the aging tankers in 2002, after two fiery crashes drew national attention. “We’re stepping back to these old tankers and old aircraft, and we’ve done nothing to develop any new technology…”
Experts say this may be a particularly dangerous moment to let the government’s firefighting resources decay. Fire and weather experts have warned that climate change and drought are likely to provide abundant fuel for more and fiercer “superfires” across the West in the years ahead, putting more strain on firefighting resources even as people build houses deeper into the backcountry.
In 2002, when the air tanker fleet numbered 44 tired, worn converted bombers, the Forest Service and their peers began requesting funds for additional planes, new planes, converted planes. No one had any question in their minds about climate change, forests turning into tinderboxes. We were witness to the changes every day.
Congress fiddled. Climate deniers funneling money through
pimps lobbyists to our elected officials in Congress and the White House had the attention of all the people who could have authorized funds for fighting fires. Now that the fires are here – egregious and opportunist creeps in Congress condemn federal fire fighters for not doing the best job of defending “their” constituents. After building a record of opposing money for any tasks other than building roads between oil wells, mines, and logging operations.
Congress fiddled. Congress continues to do nothing for people on the ground in the face of the worst wildfire season in history. We can have new aircraft carriers, new attack and invasion watercraft for the US Navy to threaten countries on the other side of the Earth. And not a bloody penny for planes to drop fire retardant, water or even smokejumpers.