COLORADO, USA — Like the rest of the western U.S., Colorado is working to prepare for a future with a year-round fire season.
Each of the nine largest wildfires in state history has burned in the last 20 years, and the three largest burned in 2020 alone.
As the Wildland Urban Interface grows, so is the risk of larger and more destructive fires -- and officials are already cautioning that 2021 could be another devastating wildfire year.
During the month of May, 9NEWS will take a look at 2020, wildfires in Colorado and where we go from here.
Ahead of the coverage, here's a look back at the nine largest fires in state history.
9. 416 and Burro Complex Fire
Size: 54,129 acres (84.5 square miles)
Date it started: June 1, 2018
Date it was fully contained: July 31, 2018
The 416 and Burro Complex Fire -- which was a combination of two fires -- led to more than 1,300 evacuations and the closure of the Purgatory Ski Resort, Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, San Juan National Forrest and stretches of US 550.
Federal officials alleged that the 416 fire was caused by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and asked for $25 million in damages.
8. Missionary Ridge Fire
Size: 71,739 acres (112 square miles)
Date it started: June 9, 2002
Date it was fully contained: July 18, 2002
The Missionary Ridge Fire started about 10 miles northeast of Durango and covered 6,500 acres on its first day, moving quickly across dry, steep terrain during an unusually dry year.
The Durango Herald reports the Missionary Ridge Fire created "columns of smoke and ash, some a mile wide, that rose to 40,000 feet."
The fire would ultimately destroy 46 homes and cabins. One firefighter died in the blaze.
7. High Park Fire
Size: 87,284 acres (136 square miles)
Date it started: June 9, 2012
Date it was fully contained: June 30, 2012
The High Park Fire was the largest but not the most destructive during the historic 2012 fire season, which also included the Waldo Canyon Fire that burned near Colorado Springs.
The lightning-caused High Park Fire torched a large swath of land in the foothills west of Fort Collins and destroyed at least 259 homes. One woman was killed.
Residents in parts of Poudre Canyon, Stove Prairie, Paradise Park, Rist Canyon and other areas were evacuated for weeks during the fire, which burned in a dry area with numerous power lines and poor cell reception.
6. Spring Creek Fire
Size: 108,045 acres (168 square miles)
Date it started: June 27, 2018
Date it was fully contained: Sept. 10, 2018
The Spring Creek Fire burned near La Veta in southern Colorado over the course of the summer of 2018. A man from Denmark who had overstayed his visa has been arrested and now faces arson charges for the blaze, which he claimed started while he was using a fire pit to grill food.
More than 140 structures were ultimately destroyed by the fire, and it led to the mandatory evacuation of the entire town of Cuchara, as well as a neighborhood near Fort Garland.
PREVIOUS STORY ABOUT FLOODING CONCERNS AFTER THE FIRE: Burn scars from wildfires increase the risk for flash flooding; here's why
5. West Fork Fire Complex
Size: 110,405 acres (172 square miles)
Date it started: June 5, 2013
Date it was fully contained: Nov. 13, 2013
The West Fork Fire Complex resulted after three lightning-sparked fires connected with one another in the Weminuche Wilderness area northeast of Pagosa Springs in southwestern Colorado.
This fire led to a temporary closure of US 160 as well as the evacuations of South Fork and Wagon Wheel Gap.
The fire was fueled by beetle kill trees and a dry summer. Firefighters were assisted when a monsoon brought needed moisture to the area.
PREVIOUS STORY: Some West Fork containment thanks to clouds
4. Hayman Fire
Size: 137,760 acres (215 square miles)
Date it started: June 8, 2002
Date it was fully contained: July 18, 2002
The Hayman Fire, which burned about 22 miles southwest of Denver in the Pike National Forest, was the largest fire in Colorado history for 18 years before it was surpassed by three fires over the course of the summer and fall of 2020.
The blaze was set by Terry Barton, a forestry technician for the U.S. Forest Service who made a fire in a campfire ring despite a burn ban. Her reasons for doing so are disputed, but the fire ultimately spread outside the ring and torched land in four different counties. Barton was indicted for arson and was given a federal prison sentence.
One civilian died from an asthma attack as the result of the fire, and five firefighters were killed in a car accident on their way to the blaze from Oregon.
A total of 133 homes, 466 outbuildings and one commercial building were impacted by the blaze, and damage estimates were in the tens of millions.
PREVIOUS 9NEWS STORY: Looking back on Hayman, 10 years later
3. Pine Gulch Fire
Size: 139,007 acres (217 square miles)
Date it started: July 31, 2020
Date it was fully contained: Sept. 15, 2020
For a few months, the Pine Gulch Fire had the title of the largest in Colorado history, before two others exploded in the fall.
This fire was started by a lightning strike about 18 miles north of Grand Junction, and it was fueled by drought-stressed vegetation, the hot summer and steep terrain.
The night of Aug. 18, the fire grew 30,000 acres due to 40 per mile hour winds that blew for nearly four hours.
2. East Troublesome Fire
Size: 192,560 acres (300 square miles)
Date it started: Oct. 14, 2020
Date it was fully contained: Nov. 30, 2020
The East Troublesome Fire began in an area northeast of Kremmling. While it initially led to some road closures and evacuations, it exploded in size between Oct. 20-23, growing from just over 18,000 acres to more than 187,000 acres and crossing the Continental Divide.
This led to an evacuation of Estes Park, Grand Lake and Granby, threatening 7,000 structures. About 35,000 people were under a mandatory evacuation.
A snowstorm ultimately helped slow the fire's spread and allow firefighters to begin to contain its borders.
Preliminary estimates show that the fire damaged or destroyed 366 homes and 214 commercial structures. Months later, some public lands are still closed due to hazards left behind by the blaze.
1. Cameron Peak Fire
Size: 208,663 acres (326 square miles)
Date it started: Aug. 13, 2020
Date it was fully contained: Dec. 2, 2020
The Cameron Peak Fire is the first wildfire in Colorado’s recorded history to burn more than 200,000 acres. Over the 112 days that it was not fully contained, the fire burned 469 structures and destroyed 224 homes.
The Cameron Peak Fire continued to grow even as a Labor Day weekend storm dumped multiple inches of snow on the burn area, and at one point threatened to merge with the East Troublesome Fire.
In all, these two blazes impacted 9% of Rocky Mountain National Park.
MORE VIDEOS: Wildfires in Colorado