Fires continue to rage across the state in what Colorado governor John Hickenlooper describes as the worst fire season in the state’s history. As of mid-day Thursday, 18,500 acres have burned in the Waldo Canyon fire that roared into a firestorm near Colorado Springs overnight on Tuesday. Though the exact number of houses destroyed can’t be precisely determined, the “monster” fire has now consumed at least 300 homes and forced 32,000 people to evacuate, nearly 5 percent of Colorado Springs’s 650,000 residents.

The Waldo Canyon fire is the latest in a series of wildfires that have burned hundreds of thousands of acres throughout the state. Currently firefighters are battling these main fires:

High Park Fire: Starting on June 9th, the High Park fire is the second largest in the state’s history. Located in Larimer County near Fort Collins, High Park has burnt through more than 87,284 acres and destroyed 257 homes. As of Wednesday, the fire was 75 percent contained, and officials say they are officially in the mop-up stage, hoping that cooler temperatures, calmer winds and rain will allow most of the evacuees back to their homes on Thursday. A 62-year-old woman, Linda Steadman, died in the fire when her home was destroyed in the blaze. Officials say full containment should happen as soon as this weekend and more than 1,300 firefighters remain on the scene as of Thursday.

Flagstaff Fire: State officials believe a lightning strike started the Flagstaff fire on June 26. By the end of its first day, the blaze had consumed 300 acres. While “slowly growing” and still considered a threat to the city of Boulder, rains on Wednesday eased concerns, allowing the city to lift its pre-evacuation order for neighborhoods in south Boulder. The fire is 30 percent contained with full containment expected by the weekend. There has been no loss of life or structures burned in the wildfire.

Smoke from the Waldo fire is seen in this satellite image

Waldo fire as seen from Earth orbit

Waldo Canyon Fire: All eyes are on Colorado Springs as the city grapples with a firestorm only 5 percent contained. Despite slightly reduced winds, lower temperatures (but still hot) and higher humidity, the Waldo Canyon fire continues to grow. The fire started on Saturday, June 23, but exploded into raging inferno on Tuesday night fueled by bone-dry humidity and high winds. Pike’s Peak, one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, is closed to the public, as is the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs.

How These Wildfires Are Different
Wildfire is an important component of the ecology, but scientists express concern that the fires spawned now in western states “deviate from historical norms in a number of important, and troubling, ways.”

“Historically, we can see evidence of much bigger fires than these,” says U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Craig Allen. “But they weren’t behaving the same way. They weren’t killing all the trees.”

The ravages of pine beetle infestation, grueling heat and pollution take their toll on forest health. For the big picture, says Allen, two overriding factors are converging to create a “new norm” in western forest fires: climate change and land-use history. Will fire seasons like the one Colorado is now experiencing become typical in the years ahead?

Main image credit: Daisyelaine/Flickr

Satellite image credit: NASA