‘We fight’: US mountain states fight forest fires despite impending winter | Natural fires

Shovel fires spread by strong winds tore over Wyoming, Montana and Colorado and shook the mountain states, even as they prepared for winter.

With forecasts for low temperatures just above freezing this week in Colorado, a fire burning about 50 miles from Denver forced evacuations and sent smoke flags toward the eastern plains. The area is awaiting its first measurable snowfall, already historically late. Fire warnings were issued by the National Weather Service, which predicted low humidity, high winds and warmer temperatures.

The Kruger Rock fire broke out after strong winds pushed a tree on a power line. The fire spread quickly through the steep forest area covered with pine and scrub. Gusts of 45 mph (73 km / h) blew the fire slowly to the east, while local firefighters struggled to gain access.

“The terrain where most of the fire burned made it too dangerous to deploy firefighters to fight the fire directly,” officials wrote in an update Wednesday. “The strong winds, higher than normal temperatures and low relative humidity indicated a great potential for the fire to grow rapidly.”

They relied on air support to suppress the fire, but conditions turned out to be too extreme, and Marc Thor Olsen, a skilled and experienced pilot, was killed on Tuesday night when his fixed-wing aircraft – which had never before been used to fight fire – at night – crashed into the rugged terrain.

“The pilot told land resources that it was turbulent over the fire, that conditions were not ideal for making a drop, and that he would make one more pass and then return to Loveland,” officials said. “Moments later, around 6:37 p.m., land resources heard the plane crash.”

By Thursday morning, fire activity had subsided, officials said, and 40% containment was achieved on the 146-acre fire. Mandatory evacuations remained in place in the communities near Rocky Mountain National Park.

Fires also forced evacuations in northern Wyoming and southern Montana, with deputies in some areas going door-to-door, warning residents to flee.

The wife of a volunteer firefighter fighting a fire in Wyoming reportedly died after being caught by the flames while trying to evacuate. Clark Fire Chief Nate Hoffert told reporters Wednesday that his team is still trying to gather what happened, based on traces left behind.

“We think she was trying to get out of the driveway and ran into a fire front and tried to turn her car around,” Hoffert told KTVQ. “From what I saw, it looks like her car got stuck and she must have tried to get out and try to get back to her house and try to get back to a safe zone and was overrun by a fire front. . “

The tragedy has affected emergency teams throughout the area. “It hits incredibly close to the home of our ward,” Kristie Hoffert, chief physician for Clark’s fire district, told Cody Enterprise Tuesday. “We fight.”

In recent decades, the fire season in the mountainous west ended in the months before the winter storms, which typically ended its siege in August or September. But the climate crisis has resulted in warmer days and drier landscapes, where the risks extend deeper into spring and autumn.

“Colorado used to talk about a fire season,” state Gov. Jared Polis said in April. “It’s now a year-round phenomenon.”

Meanwhile, a historic drought and the recent heat waves associated with the climate crisis have made forest fires more difficult and dangerous to fight. Researchers say the region has grown much warmer and drier for the past 30 years, which will continue to make the weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and devastating.

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