Snow hardly fell during winter in snowy Colorado. On top of that, the state’s soaking spring rains did not come. So it was no wonder that normally emerald landscapes were parched as summer approached, tan as a pair of worn khakis. All the earth needed was a spark.
Colorado and U.S. Forest Service firefighters are battling the state’s most destructive wildfires ever. Lightning and suspected arson ignited them four weeks ago, but scientists and federal officials say the table was set by a culprit that will probably contribute to bigger and more frequent wildfires for years to come: climate change.
In the past two years, record-breaking wildfires have burned in the West — New Mexico experienced its worst wildfire, Arizona suffered its largest burn and Texas last year fought the most fires in recorded history. From Mississippi to the Ohio Valley, temperatures are topping record highs and the land is thirsty.
“We’ve had record fires in 10 states in the last decade, most of them in the West,” said Agriculture Department Undersecretary Harris Sherman, who oversees the Forest Service. Over the past 10 years, the wildfire season that normally runs from June to September expanded to include May and October. Once, it was rare to see 5 million cumulative acres burn in a year, but some recent seasons have recorded twice that.
“The climate is changing, and these fires are a very strong indicator of that,” Sherman said.