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The ‘Big Blowup” of 1910 + Notable Colorado Fires

Starting in 1935, wildfire policy was “all fires out by 10 A.M.” This policy was instituted and evolved out of a totally out of control wildfire called “The Big Blowup,” that swept the Northern Rockies in 1910. 5 million acres burned and killed 78 firefighters {87 in all} during this catastrophic event which took place in just two days believe it or not.

David McNew, Getty Images

I came across ‘The Big Blowup” while looking at the history of wildfires in Colorado.  I have never seen a fire that has burned as quickly as the High Park Fire and that got me searching. As fast as this fire has burned it’s hard to imagine a fire that would burn 50,000 acres in only two minutes, multiple times, but that’s exactly what happened on August 20-21, 1910.

This deadly firestorm, which lasted only two days eventually put itself out by a rain and snow storm but not before it charred 3 million acres or 4,700 square miles across Idaho, Montana and Washington.  2 days!

The major issue was 80mph winds which produced enough energy to rival a Hiroshima Atomic bomb exploding every two minutes. Historians noted the fires would go on 50,000 acre (78 square miles) runs throwing fire balls out as far as 10 miles that would start new fires.  That is just insane and hard to comprehend.

The amount of forest that burned was estimated to be an astounding 8 billion board feet of timber.

Of course a fire of this magnitude will never be possible again with all the technology we have today or is it?

Of the 1,500,000 acres of lodgepole pine here in Colorado that have been infested by the pine beetle about 70% of them have been decimated already and due to higher temperatures the infestations are now seen at higher elevations adding another 400,000 acres.  This current infestation is primarily in our northern mountains and moving north and east from the Granby/Winter Park area towards Larimer County.  It is estimated that beetle kill will leave behind a deforested area the size of Rhode Island.

So what happens when and if it starts moving South and West?

This scares me and it should you as well.  The point being to please be careful and mindful while enjoying your trip in the mountains but especially careful in a dry hot summer with so much fuel ready to go up in these beetle kill areas.  If Mother Nature decides it’s time we have no choice but you can make the choice to not lend her a helping hand.

Click here to see how the Sleigh Riders are trying to help

  • 1. 2002 Hayman – 137,760 acres; five firefighter deaths in transit.
  • 2. 2002 Missionary Ridge, near Durango – 71,739 acres; one firefighter death after tree fall.
  • 2012 High Park Fire, Larimer County – 43,433 acres; 600 firefighters; IN PROGRESS firefighting cost est. $1.6 million.
  • 2002 Trinidad Complex (Spring, Fisher/James John fires) – 25,000-33,000 acres
  • 2002 Mount Zirkel complex, near Steamboat – 31,016 acres
  • 2012 Heartstrong, Yuma County – 24,000 acres
  • 2000 Bircher, near Mesa Verde – 23,607 acres
  • 2002 Big Fish, near Steamboat – 17,056 acres
  • 2002 Burn Canyon, near Norwood – 16,000 acres
  • 2002 Coal Seam, near Glenwood Springs – 12,200 acres

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