Thu June 7, 2012

Hayman Fire Anniversary Stirs Memories, Draws Comparisons to 2012

Despite recent rains, state and federal officials continue to warn that severe drought and historically low snowpack mean Colorado could be in for a long wildfire season.

For Bani Kurth, the conditions are eerily similar to 2002 when the largest recorded wildfire in Colorado history ignited near her home southwest of Denver.

“Actually I was just outside raking up the dried pine needles away from the house,” she said, in a phone interview from her home near the tiny, picturesque village of Lake George west of Colorado Springs.

Ten years ago Kurth was evacuated for more than two weeks during the Hayman Fire.  But unlike many of her neighbors, her home wasn’t burned. 

Tomorrow’s official anniversary of the day the blaze sparked holds little significance for Karuth, because she commemorates the event every day.

“I’m out in my atrium, it’s glass windows, I can see burned sticks straight west and to the north of me,” Kurth said.

But for others, like Summit County Commissioner and wild land firefighter Dan Gibbs, tomorrow’s anniversary holds a lot of meaning. 

“There’s a lot of similarities going on right now unfortunately, from now to 2002, yup,” he said.

That’s obvious when Gibbs looks out his window in downtown Frisco and sees just a few patches of snow left on the peaks

But a more startling similarity to 2002 comes when he looks at something called the energy release component; the index federal fire managers use to predict how hot a fire will burn. 

In Summit County, where almost half of all the trees are dead due to the pine beetle outbreak, it’s currently near 100%.

“I’m personally on pins and needles,” Gibbs said. “I think it’s very likely we’ll pass fire restrictions shortly.”

That could happen as early as today.  Other counties along the tinder dry Front Range already have, and similar restrictions could be coming as early as tomorrow on the White River National Forest

The federal government is warning that Colorado’s western slope is one of the most at-risk regions in the US right now for fire.

That might explain why Bani Kurth back in central Colorado’s Park County on the Pike National Forest isn’t as worried as she was in 2002.

“We’ve had a couple of days of horrific winds lately,” Kurth said. “But it’s not as bad for me, there’s a lot of green out here.”