The largest of the large-loss fires

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The largest of the large-loss fires

Postby Wilberforce » Mon Jul 02, 2012 10:09 pm

The largest of the large-loss fires

On September 6, 2010, the situation in Fourmile Canyon, Colorado, was ripe for a
wildland fire. Humidity was a low 7 percent, the winds were from the west-southwest at
12 to 15 mph (19 to 24 kph), and only 1.3 inches (3.3 centimeters) of rain had fallen in
more than a month. It was a red flag day, meaning that critical fire weather conditions
were present, or shortly would be.

The call came into the fire department at about 10 a.m. Winds had reignited a fire set in a
fire pit several days prior, and embers blowing out of the pit ignited what was to become a
$217 million wildfire, the largest wildfire in terms of dollar loss in Colorado’s history.

Driven by the wind, the fire’s surface flames grew 20 to 50 feet (6 to 15 meters) high and
started a running crown fire, burning the Ponderosa pine and native shrubs covering the
south-facing slopes of the canyon and the Douglas fir on the north-facing slopes. Aspen,
grasses, mountain mahogany, cottonwood, mountain maple, river birch, and common
riparian vegetation also grew in the canyon.

Fifty firefighters responded within two hours of the initial call, and 34 fire agencies
responded during the next 48 hours. Over the next week, they fought the blaze with
retardant-dropping aircraft, helicopters, bulldozers, fire engines, and water tenders as the
fire burned through steep, heavily forested canyons, destroying outbuildings and homes.
By the end of the week, more than 1,100 firefighters had responded to the scene.

The fire was finally contained on September 13, after burning 6,179 acres (2,501 hectares)
and destroying 172 structures. Of those structures, 166 were homes. Another 26 homes
were damaged, and suppression costs totaled almost $10 million. Fortunately, there were
no fatalities and only seven minor injuries to firefighters.

An interesting description of the burn patterns and building construction can be found in a
6/27/11 blog posting on NFPA’s Firewise website “Tour of the Fourmile Canyon fire:
questions raised, answers pending,”
The Fourmile Canyon Fire was one of 17 large-loss fires that occurred in the United States
last year.

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