From the Front Lines of Climate: Laurel Schwaebe
Lately, the big news stories have been about Congress and the debt ceiling, and this summer’s record heat that’s blasting much of the country. But just a few short months ago, everyone was talking about the immense spring wildfires that roared through Arizona and New Mexico. For many of us, the fires are all but forgotten. But even though most Americans have turned their attention elsewhere, for those directly affected by the fires, recovering from them is an ongoing reality.
To give us a glimpse of what the recovery in Arizona and New Mexico will be like, today we’re hearing from Laurel Schwaebe. Laurel lived through the 2002 Missionary Ridge fire in Colorado, which was similar in many ways to this year’s fires.
In 2002, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported that Colorado had one of their worst fire seasons on record. All told, more than 926,000 acres burned in Colorado that year, and the Missionary Ridge fire — the second largest in state history — accounted for 70,662 of those acres. That year, it was below average winter snowpack that contributed to the immense fire season (lower snowpack and earlier snowmelt caused the forests to dry out more quickly). This year, a similar effect was observed in Arizona and New Mexico, which also had unusually low snowpacks. This contributed to the Wallow fire becoming the largest fire in Arizona history, burning over 528,000 acres.
Here are a sample of Laurel’s photographs of some of the area burned during the Missionary Ridge fire. Even though these were taken this year, it’s easy to see that the fire from nine years ago left a big impact.
Laurel writes to us, “Nine years ago this month, the Missionary Ridge fire, so named for the ridge it consumed, devastated southwestern Colorado. This fire claimed 70,662 acres of land all around the town of Durango, and two other towns in La Plata county, Bayfield and Ignacio, supplied all the water they could. 56 houses went up in flames and one person was killed in the three weeks the fire went uncontained. The large amount of debris in the area, along with a drought, made it far more dangerous than it normally would have been. Now, nearly a decade later, Gambel oak and aspen trees have taken back the burn area, though a few dead trees remain standing as a tribute to the Missionary Ridge fire’s destruction”.
Photo Credit:Laurel Schwaebe