23 June 2012

2012 Hot

Yesterday's high temperature of 102 degrees was the the twelfth time so far in 2012 that a record high temperature for a calendar date has been set or matched for Denver, Colorado, according to records kept by the National Weather Service and index by 9News. 

Today's projected high of 102 in Denver, and tomorrow's projected high of 100, would tie records highs from 1954 and 2007.  It is also likely to be very windy today and tomorrow.

These conditions have encouraged the High Park Fire, near Fort Collins, Colorado which is currently the second largest in Colorado history (as measured by acres burned), but is only 45% contained (a retreat from 60% contained the previous day).  The High Park Fire surpassed the runner up, by acres burned, the Missionary Ridge Fire near Durango of 2002, this morning.  It has burned about 75,000 acres acres so far, destroyed 195-200 structures and killed one person in its first fifteen days.  Firefighters think it could take another three weeks to completely contain the High Park Fire.

The High Park Fire burned and is continuing to burn an area that is contiguous to the burn area of the 2012 Hewlett Fire earlier this year, which burned 7,685 acres.  The two adjacent fires near Fort Collins this year have combined burned about 83,000 acres so far.  The High Park Fire burn area has reached the more than 3,000 acres or so area that was burned in the Crystal Fire in the spring of 2011 which destroyed 13 homes.  The High Park Fire was attributed to a lightning strike, the Hewlett Fire to a controlled burn by forestry officials that got out of control, and the Crystal Fire to an individual who let a slash fire he started without a permit at his parent's house get out of control and was sentenced to sixty days in jail on a misdemeanor charge as a result, earlier this year.

Measured by damage to property, "the High Park Fire is the most destructive fire in Colorado history," a title previous held by the Fourmile Canyon Fire in 2010 near Boulder, Colorado.   The 2002 Hayman Fire, in the foothills between Denver and Colorado Springs, was the largest in Colorado as measured by the 138,114 acres it burned in eleven days.

Twenty-six of the twenty-eight largest fires in Colorado history have taken place after 1999.  Fourteen of those fires were in 2002 and three of those fires (including the High Park Fire) were this year.  (These estimates are based on the list found in the link to the Missionary Ridge Fire above; another more comprehensive chronology of major Colorado wild fires since 1900 by the Denver Post generally confirms this analysis, although it notes a few more big wildfires in less recent Colorado history.)

Thankfully, the current High Park Fire has not been the most deadly wildfire in Colorado history.  The most deadly wildfire in Colorado history was the 1994 South Canyon Fire (Storm King Mountain) which burned 2,115 acres and killed 14 smoke jumpers in Western Colorado near I-70.

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