In chapter fifty eight HOT TREES in my novel TELLURIDE TOP OF THE WORLD Cooper Stuart the under siege protagonist and owner of the historically powerful YbarC ranch helps save the nearby town of Telluride Colorado from an out of control wildfire in 1980. Since then the danger of wild fire in the surrounding Four Corners forests of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona has increased 10 fold out pacing modernized wild land fire fighting technologies? There are many contributing factors.
Number one is a large-scale human population move into the wild lands and forests. Once it was small towns and ranches and farms. Now the New West population has exploded from 500,000 in the wild lands to 6,500,000 since 1950. The western USA has always been a dry place especially the Southwest. Humans start 90% of all wild land fires with lightening starting the remainder.
Number two is poor management of Federal Forests which are tangled up in a mess of conflicting interests which have resulted in mature trees not being cut or even thinned for lumber but left to over crowd and burn in hotter and larger wildfires.
Number three is the bark beetle kill of millions of mature too old lodge pole pines that should have been cut for lumber that are now dead. There are three million in Colorado alone many near Cooper’s fictional YbarC ranch. They are matchsticks that ignite big fires and create firestorms, which sterilize the forest floor. The good news lodge pole pines come back quickly and mature in fifty years unlike Ponderosa Pine and Blue Spruce.
Number four is a continuing drought over the past decade especially in the Four Corners region. This is not unprecedented. This year is the third worst rain/snow pack drought in one hundred years in Colorado. But the hydro historians have deduced the region had a four hundred year drought from 1200 AD to 1600 AD that moved the Anasazi Native Americans to their present day Pueblos along the Rio Grand River in New Mexico. But then the Spanish settlers in New Spain destroyed half of the Pueblos after 1600 AD
Number five is very poor wild land building codes. Adobe, stucco. brick, and stone structures with tile and metal roofs are very fire resistant. Log and wood structures are matchsticks in the brush, chaparral and drought stricken forests.
Number six is poor planning and zoning. Most wild land Zip codes are mostly indefensible for fire protection but County Commissions under developer pressure keep handing out moronic sub division zoning in the trees and brush.
Number six is the people who move into the wild land fire path mostly don’t annually upkeep the defensible fire space between them and the chaparral, trees and brush. They are too lazy, to cheap, to retired or to low income to properly cut back defensible wild land fire space. Plus the Counties. States and fire insurance companies don’t even enforce the zoning laws and codes. And today the wild land fire fighters no longer are ordered to risk their lives to save these poorly maintained and poorly built properties or even rescue the occasional idiot owners who have been ordered to evacuate that stand on their roofs with garden hoses in hand with a fifty- hundred foot wall of fire bearing down their houses.
So its burn on until remedies are put in place and humans are extra careful with fire starting behavior in our wild lands, forests and chaparral. Next time not even Cooper and the most excellent Telluride fire fighters may not be able to save the town.