By Anthony Mangeri
Colorado is currently in the midst of the worst fire season on record. According to the National Interagency Coordination Center’s Incident Management Situation Report for Thursday June 28th, there are 13 large fires across the Rocky Mountain Geographic Region Area. Three of these fires are new.
The most destructive wildfire so far is the High Park Fire, burning 15 miles west of Fort Collins. News stories today report that the wildfire is finally slowing down after becoming Colorado’s second largest wildfire, burning 87,284 acres and destroying more than 250 homes since it began on June 9.
APUS has faculty fighting the High Park Fire including William Salmon, an adjunct professor in the School of Public Safety and Health. Salmon is a Captain with the Poudre Fire Authority and was part of the initial response to the High Park Fire in Fort Collins and the surrounding Larimer County, Colorado. Captain Salmon is a career firefighter with more than 30 years of experience in fire service.
Currently, the National Interagency Coordination Center reports that the High Park Fire is 75% contained. This containment is a testament to the 1,313 personnel on the ground that the size of the fire has not changed in the last 24 hours. However, this fire is far from being placed completely under control. There has been an area command established to coordinate response efforts and maintain the area affected.
According to Capt. Salmon, the High Point Fire began with a primary response of some 100 firefighters from five agencies addressing the initial 15,000-acre fire on the first day. However, with high ambient temperatures, readily available fuel, humidity hovering around 8%, and winds at 50 mph, the fire moved rapidly and swiftly grew. It should be noted that several local firefighters lost their homes while battling this wildfire.
Capt. Salmon was among 100 firefighters working to protect 1,969 structures at risk during those first few days. To date, approximately 332 structures were substantially damaged or destroyed.
Capt. Salmon credits the quick request for a Type 1 Team and federal support assets for bringing this fire into some control and mitigating even greater damage. Currently there are 1,313 personnel, 71 crews and 280 engines fighting this fire. The federal response has been instrumental in providing relief for the initial responding districts and for the many local firefighters who are still responding in district for local calls for service.
Of particular note, is the use of military air support to attack fire in very remote areas. A total of 4 MAFFS Military C-130’s (two from the 302nd Airlift Wing, Colorado Springs and two from the 153rd Airlift Wing, from the Wyoming Air National Guard) have been activated to support firefighting activities in Colorado. Air operations are critical in avoiding spread of fire to remote and otherwise inaccessible areas.
Also, state and local emergency management have been instrumental in securing mutual aid resources and coordinating with other agencies for support of displaced residents. Emergency management is working with agencies to establish evacuation centers and are using the local fairgrounds for sheltering of those forced from their homes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been contacted to secure funds to assure an effective response and recovery from this devastating event.
Aiding to the total destruction caused by the fires is a substantial infestation of Pine Beatles that have damaged and destroyed acres of evergreens. This devastation left veins of decaying trees and shrubs resulting in unusually high ground cover and fuel load along areas under development and in unincorporated areas. While there has been prescribed burning to reduce available fuel over the past few years, the issue of additional and expensive structures in proximity to the forest tree lines and deep woods have limited the allowed burning areas. There is much to be researched to assure safe and sustainable growth of our communities within wildland interface.
As we continue to monitor the wildfires ravaging Colorado, APUS would like to extend its thanks and appreciation to all the firefighters battling to save homes and lives in Colorado. We are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers.