In the Aftermath of the Colorado Firestorm



Yesterday, following weeks of fast-moving wildfires spreading across the state, Governor John Hickenlooper officially lifted the fire ban in Colorado.  Extreme fires have burned throughout Colorado since late June, devastating thousands of acres of land and causing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes. At its height, ten major fires were burning throughout the state, marking the worst wildfire season the state has ever seen.

A June 28 aerial photo of the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs shows the destructive path of the fire in Mountain Shadows Subdivision area. RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post.

The fire ban had applied to open burning, including campfires, warming fires, charcoal grill fires, fused explosives and private use of fireworks. The Governor’s announcement lifting the ban is a sign that the fires are finally under control and on their way to full containment.

The fires were fed by record-breaking temperatures, unseasonable dryness, and high winds. These extreme weather conditions in Colorado and other regions, particularly in the last two weeks along the Eastern seaboard, are demonstrating the realities of climate change.

Of course, climate change is not the sole direct cause of these events; combined with decades of fire suppression and the depletion of local streams and waterbeds, there were many conditions that contributed to the widespread fires. As Mark Lubell, director of the UC Davis Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior, writes in the Los Angeles Times: “No one can say that the Waldo Canyon fire was a direct result of climate change. But fires like it, and the weather conditions that create them, are exactly what climate models are predicting for arid Western landscapes from California to the Rocky Mountains.”

Droughts are a fact of life on Earth — and the Western Rockies region is no exception. But climate change intensifies weather conditions such as dryness and extreme heat that make droughts more common and more severe. We will continue to see droughts and wildfires in the West whether our elected officials believe in climate change or not. Yet with the issue of climate change all but silenced in the mainstream media, on Capitol Hill and in the White House, it will be up to the residents of Colorado, in addition to those who have lived through the increasingly-common extreme weather events in Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and across the United States, to demand taking the necessary steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change. It will take time, money, and political will to better prepare and protect our communities. But as we’ve seen in Colorado, our homes — and even our lives — may depend on it.

The Colorado skies may be clearing of smoke, but the damage wreaked by the fires is impossible to ignore: Over three hundred families lost their entire homes, and still thousands are facing significant employment challenges and health issues. The URJ is directing all donations to the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, which has set up a fund for relief efforts and works directly with impacted communities. Visit www.urj.org/relief for more information.

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Susan Paykin

About Susan Paykin

Susan Paykin is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She is a native of Oakland, NJ, and recently graduated from Brandeis University.

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