In an attempt to learn from the effects of the 2002 fire season, CSU’s WESTFIRE, or Western Forest Fire Research Center, program sponsored the “Bridging the World of Fire Managers and Applied Fire Researchers,” a workshop on April 16 to 18 at the Fort Collins Marriott.
This workshop attempted to “reach a shared understanding” of key factors during last year’s fire season, according to a press release. It was designed to combine the knowledge of land managers, technical specialists, research scientists and stakeholders, and to use this information to decide what can be done for the future fire seasons to come.
Presentations by a variety of scientists and other experts focused mostly on the Hayman fire and other fires that occurred in Colorado last year by discussing the unexpected challenges and opportunities from the fires and other factors in the past fire season.
The workshop also discussed the current drought situation, especially with the recent blizzard of 2003, and how it will affect the upcoming fire season, according to a news release.
“Another fire season like last year would be thoroughly devastating to Colorado. Agriculture and tourism just can’t afford it. Hopefully, this trend of moisture will continue throughout the summer,” said Sarah Hussey, a technical journalism major.
Last year’s fire season set some historical records by having two of the largest fires in recorded history, the Hayman fire and Missionary Ridge fire. Phil Omi, director of WESTFIRE, said what was truly remarkable was how many large fires were burning at the same time.
A factor during the 2002 fire season was the drought, which allowed fires to burn great areas very quickly since all of the vegetation was so dry.
Omi said there are several opportunities that have come about as a result of the past season. He feels that the Healthy Forests Initiative in legislation is very important and identifies the need for thinning out the forests to try to prevent uncontrollable fires. The fire season helped identify what areas are at risk for fire.
“(The fire season) is looking good, but you never know about Colorado weather. Last summer was really scary; all we can do this year is hope for the best,” said Megan Wilson, a senior biology major.
One topic discussed at the conference was how wild and prescribed fires affect people. Smoke tends to have very negative effects on elderly people, as well as those who have asthma and various pulmonary disorders. Unfortunately, Omi said, these effects are present from prescribed fires too, which causes many people to be against prescribed fires, although often the effects from prescribed fires are very good and prevent out of control wild fires later on.
He also added that prescribed fires affect the tourist industry, since people don’t like seeing the smoke from them. Omi expressed this smoke as being a “fear factor” for people, and even if they know a fire is prescribed and not out of control, it makes them uncomfortable and panicky.
“People are indoctrinated to think all fires are bad,” Omi said.
Omi said that with each bit of moisture Colorado receives, and especially with the blizzard of 2003, “chances are getting better and better that we won’t have what we had last year,” Omi said.
He quickly added, however, that each fire season can be extremely different and that whatever happens this year is not necessarily an indication of what will happen in years to come. But for now, Omi says not to worry, “there will not be a repeat of 2002 in 2003.”