Filmmakers Explore Climate Warming’s Role in Colorado’s Recent Mega-Fires

An analysis by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News found that one in four Colorado homes is located in a fire zone. A quarter million people have moved into the state’s Red Zone, the so-called urban-wildland interface, in the past two decades – 100,000 of them since 2002, when wildfires raged across Colorado.

The Red Zone fires that burned in Colorado in 2012 and 2013, scorching tens of thousands of acres, destroying hundreds of homes and claiming at least five lives, were of such magnitude that they were difficult to comprehend based on any previous modeling, said Rod Moraga, a veteran of the Boulder Fire Department and now a fire management consultant.

Moraga lost his own home in the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire outside Boulder, even though he had taken all prescribed precautions with defensible space and a metal roof. He was elsewhere helping save other homes when his burned.

Moraga is featured along with other firefighters in the new documentary, “Unacceptable Risk,” which looks at the significance played by climate warming in the immensity of recent fires, and the increasing dangers that those fires pose to firefighters.

“There are essentially three factors involved,” said Dan Glick, who along with Ted Wood produced the film for their Boulder-based journalism initiative, The Story Group. “More and more people are moving into the wildland-urban interface (the so-called Red Zone). These firefighters have been pretty good at putting out fires for the last hundred years, they’ve had a very aggressive policy, so in many places there’s been a buildup of fuels.

“And then we have what I’d call the wild card: the temperatures here have risen twice as fast as the global average. With those temperature increases we see all these other things, so the fire season is two months longer now than it was in the ‘70s.”

Glick and Moraga presented the new documentary and discussed climate change and its role in mega-fires on Colorado State of Mind on Rocky Mountain PBS.

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