We’ve entered the era of ‘fire tsunamis’

Life in the Rocky Mountains is frequently extreme as blizzards, baking sun, and fires alternate with the seasons. But fire tsunamis? Those aren’t normal.

On July 5, 2018,, one observer described a “tsunami” of flames overnight at the Spring Creek fire near La Veta in the south-central part of the state. And you can’t stop tsunamis.

“It was a perfect firestorm,” Ben Brack, incident commander for the Spring Creek fire, told the Denver Post. “You can imagine standing in front of a tsunami or tornado and trying to stop it from destroying homes. A human response is ineffective.”

Pyrocumulus clouds, a sure indicator of intense heat release from wildfire, were clearly visible from 100 miles away. The fire is just five percent contained and covers more than 100,000 acres — larger than the city limits of Denver — making it the third-largest wildfire in state history.

The official term for the hellish meteorological event that hit La Veta is a “firestorm,” a self-propelling explosion of flame generated by strong and gusty winds from a particularly intense fire over extremely dry terrain. When a fire gets hot enough, it can generate its own weather conditions and wind speeds can approach hurricane force, drying out the surrounding land. In just a few hours, the Spring Creek fire swelled by nearly 20,000 acres, with airborne sparks igniting new fires nearly one mile downwind.

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