Colorado’s wildfire season isn’t close to being over, but it’s already become the second worst year in history in terms of acreage that’s been burned with five fires making the list of the top 20 largest.
In 2018, Colorado wildfires have already burned more than 431,606 acres and Caley Fisher, a public information officer for the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (CDPS), explained to Newsweek that the wildfire season could be far from over. While Colorado’s wildfire season has traditionally been confined to the months from May to September, Fisher explained that now, wildfires occur year-round.
“In other words, we can have a wildfire every day of the year in Colorado when there's not snow on the ground or we haven't seen a lot of precipitation,” she said.
With about four months left in 2018, this year’s wildfires are already creating the second worst season for Colorado with regard to acreage burned in the last 10 years. The five biggest fires that have burned in Colorado this year collectively spanned 267,428 acres and earned spots two, six, 11, 13 and 16 on the list of the top 20 biggest fires in Colorado.
The Spring Creek fire, which began on July 27 burned 108,045, and has only been surpassed by the Hayman fire of 2002, which burned 137,760 acres. On June 1, about 10 miles north of Durango, Colorado, the 416 fire broke out for what would be just short of a two-month burn, spanning 54,129 acres and earning itself the number six spot on the top 20 list.
Number 11 belongs to the MM 117 fire that burned 42,795 acres. It began on April 17 and burned for slightly over a month. Following MM 117 on the list is the Badger Hole fire at number 13, which burned 33,421 acres in Colorado and an additional 50,761 acres in Kansas.
The Bull Draw fire at the number 16 spot burned at least 29,038 since its beginning on July 29. The fire is only at 24 percent containment and is expected to grow, possibly enough that it overtakes the Burn Canyon fire of 2002 for the number 15 spot. An additional 1,580 fires have broken out throughout Colorado this year, as well.
In 2002, over 506,000 acres were burned in wildfires, according to the National Climatic Data Center, making it the worst year in Colorado’s history for fires. The 2018 season only recently surpassed the 2012 season, which had over 6,000 fires and burned a total of 426,403 acres.
Fisher told Newsweek that weather plays a “significant role” in both the creation of wildfires and their ability to spread. Drought can often create favorable conditions and wind can help a wildfire’s progress, leading it to burn a larger area at a faster pace.
“These conditions lead to extreme fire behavior which makes the job of fighting fire even more difficult,” Fisher explained.
The western half of Colorado has experienced “exceptional drought conditions” in 2018 and Fisher told Newsweek that it’s led to “above average” fire activity in the summer months.
The Spring Creek fire was believed to have been caused by Jesper Joergensen, a Danish man living in the United States, who was charged with 141 counts of first-degree arson, corresponding with the number of homes that were destroyed. Joergensen reportedly called 911 to report the fire, which he later told police began after he built a fire pit to cook meat. He was arrested on June 30.