DENVER (CBS4) – Smoke from wildfires has become a regular smell in the air across Colorado’s Front Range this summer. Ash falling from the skies isn’t uncommon. Residents are evacuating homes due to fire, sometimes being allowed to return home and then having to evacuating again. Hundreds of homes have burned. Some have died.
The scary part in all this may be that it’s still considered early in the fire season.
So far no official has stated outright that this is Colorado’s worst year ever for fires, but already the state has seen:
– Destruction of more than 250 homes in the High Park Fire (the largest number of homes destroyed by a single fire in state history)
– The second and fourth largest fires in recorded Colorado history (High Park Fire, Last Chance Fire)
– Most deaths of residents inside a burn area in a fire in state history (3 dead in Lower North Fork Fire)
– An evacuation of the whole northwestern quadrant of the city of Colorado Springs, the largest single-area mandatory evacuation ever due to a fire in the state
On Wednesday fires were affecting residents in three of the major cities along the Front Range — Colorado Springs, Boulder and Fort Collins. The Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs clearly is the fire that needs the most urgent attention. It has burned an unknown number of homes so far, and officials are clearly preparing for the worst.
“I’m a native of Colorado Springs, and I can tell you that this event that’s going on is certainly unprecedented,” El Paso County Sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer said on Wednesday morning. “I’m as concerned as all of you out there.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper viewed the fire from the air late Tuesday and met with emergency crews.
“We saw a pretty grim scene … an army of firefighters couldn’t stop that,” Hickenlooper said. “At first I thought they were trees burning once we came in on the helicopter, and they were houses. The devastation is pretty intense.”
Fires have also broken out in other parts of the state, where the fire danger ranges from very high to extreme. The Last Chance Fire — a grass fire on the Eastern Plains — burned 45,000 acres in a single day on Monday. And on the Western Slope, the Weber Fire near Mancos has burned about 9,000 acres.
The cost of fighting the fires continues to mount and will likely continue to do so without any significant rainfall on the Front Range. The High Park Fire alone has cost $33.1 million to fight.
Prior to 2012 many considered 2002 the year’s worst for wildfires. In that year the Hayman Fire and the Missionary Ridge Fire burned a combined 211,000 acres, and were just two of many fires across the state that popped up during a drought year
The following are details on some of the worst wildfires in Colorado history:
High Park Fire: Colorado’s most destructive fire in terms of property damage — Fire started in June 2012, 250+ homes destroyed, 1 Larimer County resident killed, lighting started fire (Photo Gallery)
Lower North Fork Fire: Fire started in March 2012, 3 residents of Jefferson County killed, 27 homes damaged or destroyed, ignited by controlled burn on state land that got out of control (View Photo Gallery)
Fourmile Fire: 169 homes destroyed in Boulder County foothills, September 2010 (View Photo Gallery)
Hayman Fire: Colorado’s largest fire — 138,114 acres burned — Started in June, 2002, in Pike National Forest, 133 homes destroyed, started by U.S. Forest Service worker Terry L. Barton (View Photo Gallery)
Missionary Ridge Fire: Fire broke out near Durango in June 2012, 73,145 acres burned, 56 homes destroyed, firefighter killed by falling tree
South Canyon Fire – Fire near Glenwood Springs on Storm King Mountain in July 1994 killed 14 firefighters, burned 2,115 acres
Black Tiger Fire: July 1989 on Sugarloaf Mountain in west Boulder County, 44 homes destroyed within six hours of ignition
– Visit CBSDenver.com’s Wildfire Resources section.
– Read recent Wildfire stories.