This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, June 20, 2012.
There's been a few forest fires around Colorado of late. You may have heard. The one up in Larimer County is the High Park fire, now entering its twelfth day. The High Park fire is now the third largest in state history, and the most expensive,with about 60k acres of carbonized flora, housing, and one life to its tally sheet. As of today, we're told only 55 percent of it is contained.
As of now, about 2000 people are fighting this blaze to the west of Ft. Collins, with the help of planes and 17 helicopters. They are devoted to keep flames from getting into very large stands of dead softwoods killed by the pine beetle. It would be best if those stands would burn under controlled circumstances, but that isn't in the cards right now.
The top eleven fires in Colorado history, by acreage burned, have happened since the year 2000. Of the top thirty fires, only four of them happened before that date. That, I believe, constitutes a trend.
It is true that the pine beetles contributed mightily to that. Those insects that first bloomed in our state in the 1970's and throughout the west have left our forests a tinderbox. And not even the climate change deniers can contend that we haven't seen rising temperatures each year. That doesn't help either.
Had the westerly winds that greeted the lightening strike which started this fire continued a few more days, it would have swept around Horsetooth Reservoir and quite possibly reached the city of Ft. Collins. There was nothing really to stop it if those winds had continued. Really, if the winds pick up again, grounding the air fleet, there's nothing to stop it even now. It's too big, huge dead softwoods in clumps generate too much heat under windy conditions for ground crews to do much.
Last April on this commentary, I visited the concept of Colorado getting over its religious devotion to our forest primordial and to try and install the thought non-native - but totally less fire prone trees - might serve a constructive purpose saving lives and homes. I vectored on the cork oak, an actual oak tree that grows in both Africa and Europe and gives the world cork, obviously. But cork bark is a terrific fire retardant, and if a line of trees does not burst into flame with the gusto of dead Lodgepole, it slows the fire and maybe stops it in some conditions. Cork oaks are evergreen, so from a distance would not violate the mostly pine and spruce forest image. There are several other options, some better. It is not a solution, by any stretch, but simply replanting Ronson lighters is just begging for a replay.
We almost lost large sections of Boulder in the last decade to several fires in dry days with high winds. Realistically, the only way to slow future fires under windy conditions would be a large fire lane west of town. Large lane. Maybe seventy five feet wide of treeless, maintained pasture, because grass fires are no less dangerous. The idea is that this would stall a fire even in high winds from the west that would allow crews to control any fire reaching across the fire line, and stand a chance of preventing it arriving amidst the hardwoods and hardwood houses of Boulder with its progeny: urban Firestorm. But that fire lane would cut across private and government land and, without maintenance, might be worse than what is there.
Unless, for example, something like an elevated bicycle and pedestrian causeway on the western edge allowed gravity fed piping and alert riders and, at need, fire fighters to address the issue as things develop. It would, hypothetically, extend from Lyons to Golden, provide basis for the long postulated bike trails to Nederland and provide opportunity for stabilization of canyon walls that bedevil when not flattening cars and drivers.
This, too, would provide many additional political nightmares and difficulties but imagine cruising on your bike from Lyons south, crossing by bridge over Canyon Blvd. and continuing uninterrupted by trail and causeway to Chautauqua where the road lifts and you are elevated in the trees for much of the way south past the Pink Palace, Eldorado Springs, and entering Golden where intersections with other roads takes you to central Denver.
I don't bike.
But it strikes me such a causeway could, included with the fire lane, save Boulder from what now appears more sure than the long promised flood.