14 October 2020

The Cameron Peak Fire

The Cameron Peak wildfire in Colorado started on August 13, 2020. As of October 13, 2020, two months later, the fire was still only 56% contained and 850 firefighters are still at work on the blaze. The fire has burned 134,960 acres, almost 211 square miles (about the size of a small county). 

Fortunately, the Cameron Peak fire has not yet caused any deaths and has only caused modest structure damage as it is mostly deep in a mountain forest.

These huge wildfires are something new. All of the twenty largest wildfires in Colorado history have taken place since 2002. Three have taken place this year. The 21st largest dates to 1879, a full 123 years before the latest round of huge Colorado wildfires began. The Cameron Peak fire is the third largest fire in state history behind this year’s Pine Gulch fire (which was 100% contained on September 24, 2020), which burned 139,007 acres, the largest in Colorado history, and the 137,760 acre Hayman fire in 2002. 

These fires caused just seven deaths over eighteen years, however, and destroyed 1,169 structures, with the majority of lives lost and structures destroyed arising from a single fire (the Hayman fire in 2002). Three of the fires caused by loss of life and destroyed structures. Three more destroyed structures but caused no loss of life. Fourteen caused no loss of life and destroyed no structures.

This is due mostly due to a combination of drought, a pine beetle infestation, fire suppression that prevented smaller natural wildfires from removing fuel from the forest, and increased human populations that are interacting with the land to start fires, and also diverting water from the forests for agriculture and urban use.

These twenty wildfires (which are not a comprehensive list of all wildfires in the last eighteen years), have burned 1,231,851 acres (about 1,925 square miles which is about 1.8% of the land in the state) in Colorado (one of which burned additional acres in Kansas).
1. 2020 Pine Gulch, near Grand Junction — 139,007 acres, no deaths, caused by lightning — This fire is active and may be updated.

2. 2002 Hayman — 137,760 acres, five firefighter deaths, 133 homes burned and 600 total structures destroyed, arson caused. 
3. 2020 Cameron Peak, Larimer County — 134,960 acres — This fire is active and may be updated. 
4. 2013 West Fork Complex — 109,049 acres, lightning caused. 
5. 2018 Spring Creek, Costilla and Huerfano counties — 108,045 acres, damaged or destroyed at least 251 homes, human caused. 
6. 2012 High Park, Larimer County — 87,250 acres, killed one person, destroyed 248 homes, lightning caused. 
7. 2002 Missionary Ridge, near Durango — 71,739 acres, one firefighter death after tree fall, burned 46 houses and cabins. 
8. 2018 416, 13 miles north of Durango — 52,778 acres. 
9. 2008 Bridger, PiƱon Canyon Maneuver Site — 46,612 acres. 
10. 2012 Last Chance grassland, eastern Colorado — 44,000 acres. 
11. 2018 Milemarker 117, El Paso County — 42,795 acres. 
12. 2016 Beaver Creek, Jackson County, Routt National Forest — 38,380 acres. 
13. 2018 Badger Hole, Colorado and Kansas border — 33,609 acres in Colorado, and a total of 50,815 in both states, burned 24 structures. 
14. 2002 Trinidad Complex (Spring, Fisher/James John fires) — 33,000 acres. 
15. 2017 Logan, Logan County — 32,564 acres, destroyed 15 homes, killed hundreds of cattle. 
16. 2002 Mount Zirkel Complex, near Steamboat — 31,016 acres. 
17. 2002 Burn Canyon, Norwood — 30,573 acres.
18. 2020 Grizzly Creek, 29,000 acres — This fire is active and may be updated. 
19. 2002 Trinidad Complex, Las Animas County — 27,084 acres. 
20. 2018 Bull Draw, Nucla — 26,370 acres. 
21. 1879 Lime Creek, San Juan National Forest — 26,000 acres.

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