The photographs and videos from a Colorado wildfire as the year ended are horrifying and heartbreaking. Whole neighborhoods were destroyed. Entire communities were evacuated. Lives were turned upside down in just a few hours.

Our thoughts, prayers — and eventually, financial assistance — are with the people in the towns near Boulder.

People are still sorting through the damage, but it appears more than 1,000 homes were burned in the fast-moving grass fire that destroyed some 6,000 acres. Some 35,000 people were evacuated. Already, the Marshall Fire has been designated the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. The combination of sparks, no moisture and hundred-mile-an-hour winds proved unstoppable.

This sort of fire will become more commonplace as the climate continues to heat up. A devastating December fire in Colorado is clear warning our way of life is changing faster than we can adapt — at least to date.

Those of us in New Mexico, facing the same drought conditions and warmer weather, know it is only a matter of time until a fire destroying homes and businesses surrounds our city. That’s why the work thinning forests and watersheds is so essential. We must reduce fuel so there is less to burn that day when a lightning strike, downed power line or careless human strikes the flame that rips through our wildlands.

We must keep our neighbors to the north in mind — the Boulder County Wildfire Fund has been established and can be found online at commfound.org/grants/get-grant/Boulder-County-Wildfire-Fund. Cash will be appreciated. Then, consider what preparations to make in case of fire right here at home.

Fire preparedness is generally a topic for discussion as spring approaches and the summer fire season is around the corner. Given the reality of the climate crisis, preparing for fire is now a year-round endeavor.

That means ensuring homes have defensible space. That means moving wood piles away from structures, removing flammable brush or branches and creating areas around the home designed to stop flames from approaching.

It’s important, too, to admit fire is one of those “not if but when” situations. People must get ready for the worst. Have an emergency overnight kit packed. Designate which photos or important papers need to be saved. Be ready to evacuate quickly and know a route to get to safety. In town, there likely will be more choices, but people who live on the edge of forests or other wild lands have fewer ways to exit. Knowing to get out immediately can be the difference — the videos from Boulder showed people having to exit the grocery store and get out. They moved and moved quickly.

As the fire spread, the world was watching. On New Year’s Eve, we saw people return to stand in front of obliterated homes. Everything was wiped out in the space of hours. Now comes the rebuilding in Boulder, and for much of the West — including Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico — there must be a renewed emphasis on fire prevention. The climate is changing, and so must our preparation and response.

(6) comments

Douglas Dasher

Climate change increases removal of soil moisture along with other factors increasing the rate at which wildfires occur. Wildfire of course require a spark to set them off. Nature contributes lighting, but humans also provide directly and indirectly the spark that starts many wildfires.

Rangwala, I.;Hobbins, M. (2019) Flash Droughts in the Mountain West: Emerging Risks under a Warmer Climate, Mountain Views: Chronicles of the Consortium for Integrated Climate Research in Western Mountains, 13(1), https://repository.library.noaa.gov/view/noaa/30028.

Vigil, M.F. (2020) Climate Change: Increased Potential for Fire Disaster in Taos, New Mexico, University of New Mexico NURS 429 – Concepts in Climate Change and Public Health Preparedness. December 9, 2020.

Mike Johnson

Data recently complied by Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. at the Univ. of Colorado shows the Drought Monitor index in this area has been above 200 for 8 years out of the last 21, it is today. And that the occurrence of 70+ MPH winds in December (the most frequent month for high winds) since 1969 has happened in about 1/2 of the years. So this kind of situation is not unusual nor is it being driven by CO2, as these parameters show no correlation to increasing CO2. Now add a fire started by people in a shed that was the spark, and you have a dangerous fire in a heavily populated area. But all this speculation here is a huge stretch of the imagination just to instill fear and dread in the public for political points.

Derek Gzaskow

"all this speculation here is a huge stretch of the imagination just to instill fear and dread in the public for political points" . um ya that's what they do, and why i read the comments for a better picture, thank for the info.

Chris Mechels

This piece is misleading, due to poor research, if any. Boulder always suffers from high winds, in normal times, due to its location near the mountains. Ask anyone... The difference this year was a lack of snow cover, and yet higher winds, which resulted in grass fires driven by the winds. To generalize the Boulder situation to New Mexico is simply not useful, though we also will suffer from climate change.

Brian Martinez

Chris, you’re missing the point of the article. NM’s spring winds are brutal, ask anyone. The state has has been in mega-drought conditions for over twenty years. Either you don’t recall or you transplanted to NM after the fact, but Los Alamos had two cataclysmic wild fires which resulted in huge property losses and environmental ruin. The states diverse geography, grasslands and mountains, are ripe for fire and secondary flooding. Residents must heed the advice provided in the article, not doing so is at their own peril. I urge everyone to become more informed and contact your local fire department or county emergency management office for information on wildfire preparation and not listen to misinformation. Remember, the home or life you save may be your own.

Jim Montevallo

You are both correct, this is another quickie glib editorial from the sfnm and there are definite apples to oranges left out, but at the same time that specific part of Colorado and this time of year underscore that anywhere at anytime can become a climate disaster area. The temps around here near all of December should scare the feces out of anyone. Anyone.

Rather than another opinion piece, where is the in-depth report on the city and county's actual preparedness? What equipment do we have or lack? What massive disaster training exercises have been run? When was the last time the Disaster plan was revised, stress tested, and updated? What communications have been sent to residents to prevent and prepare, you know, those 99 percent who will never ever see this piece because the paper isn't meaningful to them or they'd read a front page report but not another opinion squeak?

To start, how about many citations has the code enforcement department issued in the last year or four and compare that to previous records. My street has violations all the time. No one cares.

Yes, thanks for the reminder to keep a go bag and remote digital backup. To move some of the kindling away as if that will really make a difference in these new kinds of megafires. Knew that decades ago.

How about you actually report on what this administration is DOING, the ones who can't handle weeds and potholes and downtown hate crimes and deaths in their own facilities with leadership and results unless, in the easy cases, there's an election coming up?

The entire issue is what happens when something previously unthinkable and big strikes as it never has before at a time when no one is looking for it. Who will respond with what and how? In drought you may have mere minutes to prevent catastrophe regardless of wood piles.

Opinions are like a certain body part. Everybody's got one. True, genuine and meaningful preparedness would be an in depth report on our paid representatives' work in this glaringly obvious and serious life and death issue. By reporting, I mean much more than mere word from department heads. Don't even want to hear from the mayor or city manager. Would not believe a word they say. Forget the council. I mean reviewing records, talking to outside experts around the west, former employees, all that.

I don't think sfnm has it in them. I think you're armchair quarterbacks who would rather blurt an opinion than do the work. God forbid disaster strikes, don't try to say you warned us with an opinion. Your only fallback will have been a serious report.

If this issue means what you say, then step up and prove me all wrong. As I am sure you are of course right and is only a matter of time before we get hit, I pledge to be among the first to congratulate and thank you.

Welcome to the discussion.

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