Climate Change Reality: Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 10/03/2010 - 01:26.

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010

What does climate change look like? The people of Boulder know only too well, having just dodged Colorado's worst wildfire ever - the Fourmile Canyon Wildfire.

The people of Fourmile Canyon - especially those who lost nearly 200 homes - are now climate change experts, as their sun-drenched, parched, droughted Rocky Mountain paradise went up in flames that rode hot dry winds across over four square miles of pristine forests, for days... just a few weeks ago.

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - blessed housed spared from fire at door

The residents whose homes survived are certainly thanking God or their lucky stars... and the firecrews who worked for endless days to control and stop this blaze, which could have escaped into neighboring valleys and spread for as far as the eye may see... it was stopped just as it jumped Sunshine Canyon Road below... just a few 1000 yards from the peak of the valley and gateway to the next valley...

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - where the firel was stopped at Sunshine Canyon Road

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - beyond the fire in Fourmile Canyon

When I was there photographing, crews were just starting to really clear the wreckage, and the natural beauty will never be the same... as beautiful as are the remains. It is not unnatural for dry places like this to burn from lightening strikes, in periodic cycles, clearing old brush and trees and starting life cycles anew... it is humans who are opposed to wildfires.

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - lucky homeowner spared

But climate change is bringing higher average temperatures, drier weather for sustained periods, and so more, worse wildfires like this one, that was feared to spread into the city of Boulder proper... the guest house where I stayed was poised for evacuation, just days before I arrived. It could well have looked like this, if the winds had blown the wrong ways.

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - home burned to the ground

The map below shows the close proximity of the Fourmile Canyon Wildfire to the city of Boulder (the street grid on the right), as the red dots represent homes destroyed by the fire just a few miles to the west. If the fire had jumped east, with strong winds behind it, flames could easily have spread the few miles to the city and caused immeasurable harm.

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - map of Fourmile Canyon Wildfire area

As it was, the fire cause great disaster, as shown in these photographs taken about 10 days after the fire was finally under control...

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - realNEO header panarama of home burned to the ground

Regarding whether climate change is a factor in such catastrophic natural disasters of this year... an excellent report by NASA's top climatologist, Dr. James Hansen - “How Warm Was This Summer?”, confirms that 2010 is expected to equal the hottest year on record, resulting in more extreme natural disasters worldwide this year, and forecasts worse impacts of climate change several years into the future, predicting "it is likely that 2012 will reach a record high global temperature." Meaning:

Given the association of extreme weather and climate events with rising global temperature, the expectation of new record high temperatures in 2012 also suggests that the frequency and magnitude of extreme events could reach a high level in 2012. Extreme events include not only high temperatures, but also indirect effects of a warming atmosphere including the impact of higher temperature on extreme rainfall and droughts. The greater water vapor content of a warmer atmosphere allows larger rainfall anomalies and provides the fuel for stronger storms driven by latent heat.

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - Extreme Wildfire Danger sign

Regarding whether climate change is a factor in catastrophic natural disasters of this year... like the flood in Pakistan... and the heat wave in Russia and drought in Colorado, which each resulted in major wildfires... Hansen writes:

Extreme events, by definition, are on the tail of the probability distribution. Events in the tail of the distribution are the ones that change most in frequency of occurrence as the distribution shifts due to global warming.

For example, the "hundred year flood" was once something that you had better be aware of, but it was not very likely soon and you could get reasonably priced insurance. But the probability distribution function does not need to shift very far for the 100-year event to be occurring several times a century, along with a good chance of at least one 500-year event.

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - cemetery does not burn

In other words... "if the question were posed as "would these events have occurred if atmospheric carbon dioxide had remained at its pre-industrial level of 280 ppm?", an appropriate answer in that case is "almost certainly not." That answer, to the public, translates as "yes", i.e., humans probably bear a responsibility for the extreme event."

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - home spared surrounded by ashes

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - singed tree

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - home on hillside spared from fire

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - home on hilltop spared from fire

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - burned garage and vehicles at home burned to the ground

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - burned garage and vehicles at home burned to the ground

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - burned garage and vehicles at home burned to the ground

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - burned canyon view from Sunshine Canyon Road by Gold Hill

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - burned canyon view from Sunshine Canyon Road by Gold Hill

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - burned canyon view from Sunshine Canyon Road by Gold Hill

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - burned canyon view from lower Sunshine Canyon Road

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - burned canyon view - can't burn a cemetery

As you may see from these photos, 100s of acres were burned... but you can't burn a cemetery.

This wildfire was actually set by a firepit that was started by a volunteer fireman, who thought he had extinguished his blaze... it was brought back to life and spread by hot dry winds several days later.

While nearly 200 homes were lost, nobody was killed or injured... nature here shall be reborn... as I was shooting I noticed grasshoppers living among the ashes.... and there are many mountains of Colorado still to burn or save, depending on man.

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - geodesic home beyond the fireline

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - off-the-grid home with wind turbine, solar and greehouse beyond the fireline

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - beyond the fireline

 Fourmile Canyon Wildfire, West of Boulder, Colorado, September 2010 - beyond the fireline

1.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
2.
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion'd stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
3.
O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.
4.
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

 

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