Heather McGregor
Post Independent Editor
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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December 31, 2012
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Top 10 news stories, No. 3: Drought, wildfires second-worst in Colorado history

It was the winter of little snow, followed by the spring of no rain, that led to the summer and autumn of fire across Colorado.

In the National Climactic Data Center's archives, 2012 is now officially the second-driest year on record for Colorado, coming in just a whisper behind 2002.

On June 8, the Post Independent looked back 10 years to the Coal Seam Fire, which swept through Glenwood Springs in 2002, burning 29 homes and more than 12,000 acres of land.

But in the present, Colorado was already on its way to what would also become another record year for wildfires.

Locally, firefighters stomped out small blazes on Thompson Creek Road in April and along Highway 82 on June 4. On June 6, a blaze destroyed a cabin on Missouri Heights.

Elsewhere in Colorado, fires were erupting on forested land in the mountains. In Larimer County, the High Park Fire started June 9 and burned for weeks, killing one and ultimately destroying 259 homes.

With the entire state on alert, authorities began imposing fire bans and canceling Fourth of July fireworks shows.

The combination of little to no snow and rain in the preceding months, hot temperatures and dry winds led federal and local authorities to impose stringent Stage 2 fire restrictions on public and private lands through much of western Colorado, effective June 22.

Soil moisture levels were near zero, with vegetation and duff so dry that any spark would ignite a fire.

The focus was on forests, but on June 24, a spark from a tire blow-out ignited a grass fire on the eastern plains that burned 45,000 acres in Washington County and 11 homes in and near Last Chance.

The state's worst fire of the year, Waldo Canyon, started June 23 near Manitou Springs and spread east into mountain subdivisions in Colorado Springs. Waldo blew up in a huge firestorm on June 26, killing two elderly residents and ultimately burning 346 homes.

Although Garfield County lucked out with no major wildfires, smaller fires attracted plenty of attention as residents were tense with fear over where the next conflagration would erupt.

On June 27, two teens playing with fireworks set off a blaze that charged up a hillside above the Roaring Fork River and threatened several Glenwood Park homes. Residents with garden hoses and the Glenwood Springs Fire Department brought the blaze under control as it charred several back fences. One of the youths, 17, was charged with fire-setting, a class VI felony.

Three days later, a cigarette flicked from a vehicle on I-70 sparked a five-acre brush fire near Canyon Creek.

Also on June 27, lightning ignited a 1,500-acre fire on public land north of De Beque Canyon. The next day, pushed by strong winds, it grew to 12,000 acres, and authorities feared it would jump the Colorado River and I-70.

But night fell as the fire reached the river, and cooler overnight temperatures allowed firefighters to douse the leading edge of the blaze and keep it contained.

Although rains started to fall by mid-July and fire restrictions were completely lifted by Aug. 3, fires continued to plague the region. Two late-season fires, likely caused by people, burned about 225 acres on the Flat Tops north of New Castle in September and 1,000 acres along the Grand Hogback north of Rifle in October.

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The Post Independent Updated Dec 31, 2012 01:24AM Published Dec 31, 2012 01:22AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.