Colorado fire lessons: Climate change and new construction in wildlands

Superior, Colorado

The winter grassland fire that blew up along Colorado’s Front Range was rare, environmental scientists say, but similar events may be more common in the coming years as climate change dries grasslands and suburbs grow in fire-prone areas and people continue to spark destructive blazes.

“These fires are different from most of the fires we’ve been seeing across the West, in the sense that they’re grass fires and they’re occurring in the winter,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. “Ultimately, things are going to continue to get worse unless we stop climate change.”

Flames swept over drought-stricken grassy fields and neighborhoods northwest of Denver on Thursday with alarming speed, propelled by guests up to 105 mph (169 kph). Tens of thousands were ordered to flee with little notice.

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