The Mega Drought Brings Winter Fires to Boulder County, CO

Drought fuels Colorado's winter wildfire

As the rest of the world prepared to ring in the new year, Colorado closed out 2021 with the most severe wildfire in the state's history -- the Marshall Fire. Last Thursday, a wind-fueled blaze swept across 6,200 acres of land in the suburbs of Boulder County, destroyed approximately 1,000 homes, left 1,600 households without power, and resulted in the evacuation of thousands of residents.

Historically, December has not been a wildfire season for Colorado. But for months, the typically snowy state has been locked in the grip of a historic drought, leaving the land dry and prone to wildfire spread. In the lead-up to the fire, NBC reported that Boulder got only an inch of snow this year, when it generally gets an average of 30 inches from September to December.

Reuters: Scientist says climate change worsened Colorado fire, January 3, 2022.

Why This Matters

According to a team of scientists at the Colorado Climate Center, the drought and unseasonably warm temperatures -- both linked to climate change -- set the preconditions for the devastating December wildfire. In the words of University of Colorado Boulder scientist Jennifer Balch, "climate change is definitely a part of this story… We don't have a season any longer. We are now looking at yearlong fires."

Priming the West for Wildfire

When it comes to fires, experts say households and infrastructure must prepare for the "new normal." University of Montana fire ecology professor Philip Higuera told NBC that, "We as a society need to recognize that wherever we're living in the West with vegetation is a fire-prone environment… This can happen anywhere."

MSNBC: Climate Change Is Our Greatest Existential Threat, January 3, 2022.

Guardian: The climate science behind wildfires - why are they getting worse?, August 20, 2021.

WW0: Dr. Alex Hall & Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali Discuss the California Fires and Climate Change, September 30, 2020.