Wildfires Off to Roaring Start; Fire Crews Stretched Thin

By Tom Yulsman | June 13, 2013 2:35 am

An animation of images from NASA’s Terra satellite showing true color and false color views of the Black Forest Fire burning near Colorado Springs. Click for a larger version. (Animation by Tom Yulsman. Imagery: NASA.)

A wildfire raging in the wooded Black Forest area just northeast of Colorado Springs, Colorado’s second largest city, has already consumed an estimated 8,500 acres — an area more than half the size of Manhattan Island. Primed by high temperatures and dry conditions, the blaze has triggered the evacuation of up to 9,500 people and destroyed 92 homes. It could grow by another 3,000 acres.

UPDATE 4:00 p.m. Thursday: Since I posted the original version of this story, the Black Forest Fire has grown to more than 15,000 acres — larger than Manhattan island — and has destroyed 360 homes. This makes it the most destructive fire in Colorado history, surpassing last year’s nearby Waldo Canyon Fire. According to the Denver Post, strong winds are pushing the fire now toward the city of Colorado Springs — Colorado’s second largest city. As I get more information, I’ll provide further updates.

There have been no reports of deaths or injuries.

The blaze is clearly visible in the animation above. I put it together using true color and false color images of the area captured by the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite on Wednesday, June 12.

A thick smoke plume stands out in the true color image. In the false color image, Wednesday’s active burn area shows up in bright red tones, while an area that has already burned is visible as a dark brown patch. (For remote sensing geeks like me, an explanation from NASA: The false color image uses MODIS bands 7, 2, and 1, which are assigned to the red, green, and blue portions of the digital image. This combination is particularly useful for identifying burn scars.)

Last summer’s horrific Waldo Canyon Fire burned its way right into the nearby city of Colorado Springs, incinerating 347 homes along the way and becoming at that time the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. (You can spot the burn scar from that monster to the west and a little south of the current fire.) In just two days, the Black Forest Fire has begun to make a scary run on surpassed that depressing record. So it’s no surprise that a large number of resources are being thrown at it to try to bring it under control. According to Wildfire Today, 487 fire fighters and 412 law enforcement personnel are working the fire.

They have their work cut out for them. As I write this early Thursday morning, it is zero percent contained.

The blaze isn’t the only one burning in Colorado right now. In fact, several wildfires broke out yesterday, including the Big Meadows Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park northwest of Denver. As of Wednesday night it had consumed 600 acres. With 107 fire fighters working that one, it too has no containment. Luckily, no structures or communities are threatened.

According to InciWeb, a collaboration between several agencies, wildfire crews have been challenged in their efforts to combat the Big Meadows blaze by a lack of personel:

A challenge continues to be filling additional Type I crews. Due to other fires in Colorado, as well as in other states that are impacting communities and homes, resources are being spread across the nation.

Another Colorado blaze straining firefighting resources is the Royal Gorge Fire. You can spot it in the lower left corner of the false color image. It is estimated to have consumed 3,100 acres and destroyed 20 structures. The fire is 20 percent contained.

I’ll look for more imagery of these and other fires and post an update as soon as I can.

In the meantime, I want to say that it’s good to be blogging again here at ImaGeo, after a three-week hiatus while I traveled in Asia. I plan to post some things related to my journey soon. So please check back!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, Drought, Wildfire


ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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