EADS, Colo. — Kiowa County Sheriff had to do something last month that he’s never seen done in his 75 years living in that small county along Colorado’s border with Kansas.
He issued evacuation orders for two towns because of a fast-moving wildfire.
“This was the largest we had by some great margin,” Sheriff Forest Frazee said. “This one actually ran about 15 miles.”
Frazee said when he realized a county foreman in a firetruck was the only thing standing between the sweeping fire and the town of Brandon, he made the call to evacuate. Frazee also evacuated the town of Chivington a few miles away.
The fire in Kiowa County on April 22 was one of two large fires in the region of late. The latest fire which burned last night in neighboring Prowers County also prompted pre-evacuations in the town of Holly.
Frazee said he hasn’t seen fire this powerful in his part of Colorado for years.
“Not since the 50s,” the sheriff said by Zoom Monday. “I can remember prairie fires in the 50s when we had no way to fight them.”
In the years following, Frazee said he watched firefighters get a much better grasp on fires burning on the prairie using new equipment, better communication and more resources.
These latest fires in southeastern Colorado were fueled by dry conditions in April and an especially windy month.
“Climatologically speaking, the springtime months particularly once we get into April are good weather conditions for wildfire activity on our plains,” said Becky Bolinger, Colorado’s assistant state climatologist. “It’s easy to go a string of days without getting any moisture. And it’s also easy to get windy days.”
“This April has been anomalous for a couple of reasons. First we had a long term drought laying the groundwork. We’re adding on the fact that we went through April with virtually no moisture for our Eastern Plains.”
Bolinger said fires in grassland have been part of our ecosystem and environment for a long time.
“But it is something that we are much more sensitive and attuned to now, particularly since the Marshall Fire.”
And, as with so many severe weather events and disasters, there is a climate change connection.
“While we can’t specifically attribute this specific thing happened because of climate change, we do know that climate change is going to make these events more likely to occur, or that they will occur more frequently,” she said.
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