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High Park Fire: Sign of Things to Come this Summer?

June 13, 2012

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - The fast-moving High Park Fire sent a plume of choking smoke over the Front Range urban corridor on Tuesday morning - the most visible sign of what could be a long, hot fire season for the Centennial State.

Colorado mountain snowpack is at 2 percent of normal for this time of year, and many streams already are past their peak flows.

All that has the National Wildlife Federation's David Ellenberger worried. Colorado's spring already was a record-setter in terms of high temperatures, he says, and the summer is expected to follow suit.

"With the lack of precipitation and the hotter temperatures expected, we're looking at a real ticking time bomb here."

The long-term trends are a symptom of climate change, says Ellenberger, the federation's regional outreach coordinator, with hotter, drier conditions and a year-round fire season. This year's first major blaze was the Lower North Fork Fire, which erupted in March.

Colorado isn't the only state with tinder-dry conditions. New Mexico, Wyoming, California and Utah all also are battling wildfires.

Meanwhile, President Obama on Tuesday was slated to sign a bill allowing the U.S. Forest Service to purchase seven more firefighting air tankers. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., pushed the bill through Congress.

"The High Park Fire is a reminder of exactly why we need modern air tankers to aid in the attack of large wildfires. We have to remain diligent in doing everything that we can to support those on the front lines. "

Ellenberger says the new tankers - and other proposals to help battle the bark beetle, which killed many of the trees in the fire zone - are important. But he worries they're putting a Band-Aid on a larger problem.

"You have to look at the long trends. Climate scientists are in agreement that the future of the intermountain West and the Colorado Rockies is going to be hotter and drier."

Proposed new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency limiting carbon pollution from new coal-fired power plants could help stem that trend, he says, because electricity is one of the bigger producers of greenhouse gases.

Fire updates can be found at coemergency.com.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO