On my way to work today, I was talking to my sister, Terri, who is really upset about the fires currently raging in Colorado. She, my brother, and many of their friends are all affected by the fire burning in and near Colorado Springs, where they live. To be honest, I was surprised to hear that. If not for family and friends living in Colorado, I probably wouldn’t have known anything about the Waldo Canyon Fire. I haven’t heard anything on the news in California, and none of my co-workers were aware of what is becoming the worst fire in Colorado’s history.
The Waldo Canyon fire is a forest fire that started about 4 miles northwest of Colorado Springs, Colorado almost a week ago. It currently covers a total of 18,247 acres (29 square miles). The fire has caused the evacuation of over 36,000 residents of Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and Woodland Park, several small mountain communities along Highway 24, and partial evacuation of the United States Air Force Academy. At least 346 homes have been destroyed by the fire. U.S. Highway 24, a major east-west road, has been closed in both directions.
It sounds pretty bad, but our conversation made me think that maybe the Waldo Canyon Fire is actually small, compared to what we Californians deal with annually. I mean, I remember major freeways closing because of the fires consuming Orange and San Diego counties a few years ago. In the interest of providing a little perspective, I decided to look up the statistics of the most recent California fires. Here’s what I came up with:
October 2007 – California wildfires burned 500,000 acres (that’s 770 square miles) from Santa Barbara County to the U.S.-Mexico border. In the largest evacuation in California’s history, 1,000,000 people left their homes. At least 1,500 homes were destroyed; nine people died as a direct result of the fires; 85 others were injured, including at least 61 firefighters. The fire was visible from space!
Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in seven California counties; President George W. Bush ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts. More than 6,000 firefighters worked to fight the blazes, assisted by units of the U.S. Armed Forces and National Guard, 3,000 prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes, and 60 firefighters from Tijuana and Tecate, Mexico.
Summer 2008 - Northern California Lightning Series is what firefighters called the concentrated outbreak of wildfires sparked by lightning during dry thunderstorms. Over 2,780 individual fires were burning at the height of the period, burning large portions of forests and chaparral in the state’s northern counties. Of these, the Basin/Indians fire in the Ventana Wilderness was the third largest in California history based on size, and the second costliest in the nation’s history to contain. The area burned reached 801,726 acres. 23 people lost their lives.
Total resources required to put out the fires included 467 hand crews, 1,503 engines, 423 water tenders, 291 bulldozers, 142 helicopters, 400 soldiers and numerous air tankers. Greece, Cyprus, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand provided financial assistance.
Summer-Fall 2009 California wildfires – 63 wildfires burned more than 336,020 acres (525 square miles) of land from the beginning of July through late November, destroying hundreds of structures, and killing two people. I vividly remember very large fires burning throughout Southern California.
The Station Fire, north of Los Angeles, was the largest and deadliest of these wildfires, burning 160,577 acres, and killing two. The La Brea Fire burned nearly 90,000 acres in Santa Barbara County earlier in the month. The 7,800-acre Lockheed Fire in Santa Cruz County generated a state of emergency in Northern California.
As a consequence of California’s seasonal fires, I’ve become complacent. I was actually driving through Camp Pendleton and smelling smoke as I talked to Terri. When I reached work, I looked up the fire; it had only burned 250 acres – not even a blip on So. California’s fire radar.
Cal Fire: http://calfire.blogspot.com/
Commentary on Waldo Canyon Fire & No. California fire threat: http://www.redbluffdailynews.com/news/ci_21011508/super-fires-like-colo-nearly-inevitable-norcal