Colorado burning

Phillip StewartSmoke from the Black Forest Fire.

Hellish wildfires are ravaging parts of Colorado. Thousands of people have been evacuated and at least 360 homes have been destroyed by the Black Forest Fire, currently burning northeast of Colorado Springs. It’s just one of many blazes being battled by firefighters in the state and across the West.

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Susie Cagle

This year’s Western fire season began early with blazes in Southern California — a phenomenon that California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) blamed on climate change. Last week, the head of the U.S. Forest Service warned Congress that climate change is prolonging the annual wildfire season.

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The Associated Press reports that the Black fire is “the most destructive in state history” — and it’s still raging.

Fueled by hot temperatures, changing gusts, and thick, bone-dry forests, the Black Forest Fire earlier prompted evacuation orders and pre-evacuation notices to more than 9,000 people and to about 3,500 homes and businesses, sheriff’s officials said. …

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The fire was among several that surged rapidly Tuesday along Colorado’s Front Range. Wildfires also were burning in New Mexico, Oregon and California, where a smokejumper was killed fighting one of dozens of lightning-sparked fires.

The Black Forest Fire is expected to worsen, The Denver Post reported this morning:

Thursday’s forecast called for shifting, gusty winds, even hotter temperatures and a threat of dry lightning.

“The potential for this fire to spread is extreme,” [El Paso County Sheriff Terry] Maketa said. “We’re throwing everything at this we possibly can.”

Even one of the evacuation centers, New Life Church, had to be evacuated Wednesday because of thick, acrid smoke.

Nearly 500 firefighters were supported by Chinook helicopters and air tankers spreading slurry over Black Forest, north of Colorado Springs. Army, National Guard and Air Force units also pitched in.

The Guardian reported last week on the Forest Service chief’s warnings:

America’s wildfire season lasts two months longer than it did 40 years ago and burns up twice as much land as it did in those earlier days because of the hotter, drier conditions produced by climate change, the country’s forest service chief told Congress on Tuesday. …

“Hotter, drier, a longer fire season, and lot more homes that we have to deal with,” Tidwell told the Guardian following his appearance. “We are going to continue to have large wildfires.”

Even as climate change makes the fire season more deadly, the federal government is having to battle the blazes with fewer firefighters and less equipment than in previous years — the result of sequester spending cuts ordered by Congress.