Colorado witnessed an absolutely devastating wildfire season in 2012. We were not alone however as many locations across the U.S. saw a year of record burning and yesterday NOAA named the wildfire activity one of its top weather and climate events of 2012.
Here in Colorado we were home to the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs. That blaze started on June 23 and went on to become the state’s most destructive wildfire on record. Over the 17 days of active burning, the fire destroyed 346 homes causing $15 million in damage and killed two people.
2012 also brought the state’s second largest wildfire on record and the second most destructive, the High Park Fire. Burning west of Fort Collins the fire started on June 9 and scorched 87,284 acres, destroyed 259 homes and claimed one life.
Early in the season, the Lower North Fork Fire kicked things off. While relatively small, it destroyed 27 homes and claimed three lives.
Colorado was not alone as major fires burned across the west.
In New Mexico the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire started in mid-May and after more than two months of burning had burned 297,845 acres. The fire which burnt in the Gila Wilderness and National Forest easily became the Land of Enchantment’s largest on record.
In the Pacific Northwest the Long Draw Fire and Miller Homestead Fire burned an amazing combined 719,694 acres. Wyoming and Idaho fought significant fires in their states as well.
The agency wrote, “Large wildfires dominated the landscape during 2012. Some of the largest fires occurred in New Mexico (largest in state history), Colorado (most destructive and 2nd largest in state history) and in Oregon (largest since the 1860s). More than 3.64 million acres burned during August, which is the most on record for the month. More than 9.2 million acres were consumed in 2012, which is the third highest acreage burned since 2000.”
While the acreage burned was extraordinary, the number of fires in 2012 actually decreased. This continues a trend in lower number of fires since 2000.
Much of the increase in acreage can be attributed to some of the fires’ locations and the management of them. Some of the nation’s larger blazes were in wilderness areas where life and property were not threatened so they were allowed to burn mostly unabated.
As the Climate Change Examiner reported, NOAA’s State of the Climate said that 2012 will go into the record books as the warmest on record and the 15th driest. The hot and dry conditions undoubtedly added to the increase in fire activity.