News & Events

October 10th, 2010

Fourmile Fire follows historical pattern of severe burns

Fire and forest ecologist Tania Schoennagel and her colleagues Thomas Veblen and others conducted studies of the forests west of Boulder before the devastating Fourmile Canyon Fire erupted on September 6th, 2010. By the time the Fourmile Fire was fully contained about a week later, it had become the most destructive fire in Colorado history. Schoennagel discussed the fire, results from their studies, and ideas for future fire mitigation in an extended interview with Ryan Warner of Colorado Public Radio on 15 September.

During the interview Schoennagel notes that the forests west of Boulder were ripe for a severe fire, primarily because many of the forests in the area are naturally dense, with only minimal effects of past fire suppression on forest density. Moreover, her research shows that these forests have a long history of fire, including severe fire events. She and her colleagues identified fire scars in tree rings to create a history of past fires. Their data identifed many fire events, including severe fires that destroyed the town of Gold Hill in 1860 and another than nearly destroyed the town again in 1894. Both fires occurred during a prolonged dry period in the late 1800's.

Schoennagel and Warner discuss many topics including the difficulties of coordinating fire mitigation efforts on a patchwork of public and private lands, the expected increase in damaging wildfires in the Wildland-Urban Interface associated with increasing population and changing climate, and ideas for reducing the damage of future wildfires.