A massive wildfire in Colorado is threatening homes and has closed a National Park the day after it ballooned in size, growing by 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) in an hour.
The East Troublesome Fire has burned more than 125,000 acres (51,00 hectares) and triggered evacuations stretching from the town of Grand Lake to the town of Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The fire’s boundary is only 11 miles (17 kilometers) from the largest wildfire in Colorado history, the Cameron Peak Wildfire, which has been burning since Aug. 13. There are fears that the two fires could merge, according to 9News.
The East Troublesome Fire began Oct. 14. Between Wednesday night (Oct. 20) and Thursday morning (Oct. 21), it exploded in size, from 24,000 acres (9,700 hectares) to more than 125,000 acres, according to 9News. On Wednesday night, the Grand County sheriff reported that in a single hour, the fire devoured 6,000 new acres. The origin of the fire is not known, but it is believed to be human-caused.
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The fire is now the fourth-largest in recorded Colorado history. Three out of the top four fires by size in Colorado have happened in 2020: The Cameron Peak Fire, which has burned nearly 207,000 acres (83,800 hectares), is the largest ever. The second-largest is the Pine Gulch Fire, which burned 139,007 acres (56,254 hectares) near Grand Junction in July. The only fire in the top four not from 2020 was the Hayman Fire, which burned 137,760 acres (55,750 hectares) in 2002.
Infrared imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GOES-East satellite shows the intense heat from the East Troublesome Fire spreading Wednesday and expanding rapidly as night fell on Wednesday night. Smoke from the fire was visible from Denver as the plume rose 40,000 feet (12,200 meters), according to the Washington Post.
Rocky Mountain National Park is closed due to fire activity, and parts of the fire have burned across Trail Ridge Road, the main vehicle route through the park, according to OutThereColorado. Grand County officials reported that there had not been any reported deaths from the fire as of Thursday afternoon, but that many structures had been damaged.
According to 9News, high winds and dangerous weather conditions were expected on Thursday, which could make containment of both the Cameron Peak Fire and the East Troublesome Fire difficult. There are also four other largely uncontained wildfires burning in the state: The Calwood and Lefthand Canyon fires, both near Boulder, the Williams Fork fire in Grand County, and the Middle Forks fire in Routt County.
These unusually late fires have been stoked by drought conditions. All of Colorado is in drought, according to the Drought Monitor, with almost 22% of the state in the most extreme drought conditions. Much of Grand County, where the East Troublesome Fire is burning, is in extreme drought.
“Typically this time of year we’re cooling off and starting to get wetter,” Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with Drought Monitor, told Colorado Public Radio. “And that just hasn’t happened yet.”
According to the University of Colorado, Boulder Environmental Center, climate change is warming and drying Colorado, leading to shorter snow seasons and shrinking snowpack. Warmer temperatures also allow the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) to thrive at higher elevations. These beetles lay their eggs in pine trees, introducing a fungus that ultimately kills the trees. The dead trees left behind provide ready fuel for wildfires.
Originally published on Live Science.
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