On July 1, 2012, wildfire command and control operations transferred from the Colorado State Forest Service to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, Division of Fire Prevention & Control.
Wildfire has been an essential part of our environment for millennia, shaping natural ecosystems such as forests and rangelands.
Fire is a vital and natural component of healthy forests, especially in the West. Many species, such as lodgepole pine, partially depend on fire to spread their seeds.
Three components must be present before a fire can start: oxygen, heat and fuel. In the context of wildfires, fuel is any living or dead material that will burn, such as dry leaves, pine trees, fallen branches, grasses and even homes.
Low-intensity fires reduce fuel buildup on the forest floor, thus helping prevent susceptibility to insect infestations and disease outbreaks. Additionally, fire helps recycle nutrients back into the soil and creates a fertile environment for seeds to germinate. Forest fires can enhance wildlife habitat and improve access and appearance.
Historically, fires caused by lightning and ignited by Native Americans helped maintain open forests and grasslands.
By the 1900s, however, Americans grew to fear fire — whether natural or human caused — due to damages to personal property, farmland, livestock and wildlife, and threats to human life. As a result, fire suppression became the norm.
The great fires of 1910 burned more than 3 million acres in the Northern Rockies of Idaho and Montana, took the lives of 78 firefighters and cost the USDA Forest Service more than $20 million (adjusted for inflation). This historic event, known as "The Big Blowup," prompted a decision to put out forest fires as quickly as possible. Now, almost 100 years later, fire suppression has led to severe changes in America's forests.
A century of fire suppression has produced dangerous accumulations of fuels, causing hotter and more intense fires when they do eventually burn. Because of the arrangement of these fuels, fire travels to the top of the forest instead of staying close to the ground. These crown fires are extremely threatening to soils, habitat, property and people.
Excessive fire suppression and fuel buildup have negative impacts on forest health and the humans and wildlife that inhabit the area. However, land managers and homeowners can take preventive measures to reduce the occurrence of catastrophic crown fires. Such actions include clearing dead and downed materials, thinning tree stands and removing other hazardous fuels. Allowing naturally occurring fires to burn without interference or applying fire through prescribed burning can help prevent intense crown fires and maintain a healthy forest.