S115 A case study of the 2012 High Park fire in Colorado

Sunday, 10 January 2016
Hall E ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Amanda G. Hazelton, MSU scams, Littleton, CO

In 2012 the United States set the record for warmest year on record, breaking the previous record by 1 degree Fahrenheit. Colorado experienced an extreme heat wave during the summer months and Denver tallied 73 90-degree days, 12 more than the previous record. This heat combined with extreme drought conditions caused an outbreak of large wildfires in Colorado. Emergency fire crews have a very limited understanding of wildfire behavior due to the unpredictable nature of such a microscale phenomenon, putting people at great risk from rapid changes in fire movement. In order to begin to further our knowledge of fire weather, the High Park fire of 2012 west of Fort Collins, Colorado will be the focus for a case study on fire conditions and fire weather.

The High Park fire burned from June 9th, 2012 to June 30th, 2012 and consumed 87,284 acres. Due to its proximity to Fort Collins, the fire is a very well documented fire for the state. It was named after the area that the fire was first started by lightning. Due to the hot, dry conditions of 2012, along with a large number of pine beetle kill trees in the area, the fire itself expanded rapidly. The fire created large pyrocumulus clouds showing how hot the fire burned during the time frame, which in turn, increased the winds on the ground helping to spread the fires. In the area there was very low humidity and very little moisture for most of the spring and the summer leading up to the fires. There was an unusual and unseasonal downslope windstorm that helped to spread the fire quickly. Each of these features created ideal conditions for fire weather.

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