More fires had burned more acres by this time a year ago.
But with big fires already this year in Arizona and New Mexico, and with Colorado Springs residents still coming to grips with the losses of the Waldo Canyon Fire that burned 350 homes, this year looks like it will be long and hot, too.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack came to Colorado and Boise Tuesday to tell residents of the Northern Rockies to prepare for the worst.
The two members of President Obamas Cabinet did the obligatory thanks to the army of firefighters who have risked their lives to fight fires in high winds and blistering heat in the Southwest. And they offered sympathy to the hundreds of families whove lost their homes or whove lost family members in air tanker crashes.
But along with the message that the federal government was here to help, the two leaders of the nations firefighting campaign urged people to take responsibility for protecting their own homes. And with the fire season moving north into Idahos forests and the rest of the Northern Rockies, they urged residents not to wait.
If you havent cleared your property, if you havent prepared your business and your home for fire, this is the time to do so, Napolitano said.
The two toured the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs Tuesday morning and in the afternoon Boises National Interagency Fire Center, where the nations wildfire-fighting efforts are coordinated.
The Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed more than 350 homes. In Idaho, last weeks Charlotte Fire burned 66 homes and 29 outbuildings in Pocatello.
FROM THE FOREST TO THE URBAN FRINGE
Over the past 20 years, the western fire story has shifted from backcountry locales like Yellowstone National Park and Yellow Pine on the edge of the Frank Church River of No Return to more urban settings Colorado Springs, Los Alamos in 2000, Boise in 1996 and 2008 and even Los Angeles in 2003 and 2005.
Thats happening because more people have moved into the urban edge next to forests and rangelands, said Napolitano, who saw her share of fires as governor of Arizona.
Its also happening because a changing climate has brought longer, drier and hotter fires seasons across the West, she said.
Its amazing to watch so many houses burn but its also remarkable that local fire departments are able to save as many as they do, said Vilsack, whose department oversees the U.S. Forest Service.
In the Waldo Canyon Fire, thousands of homes that were bathed in a shower of embers were protected 81 percent, he said.
We saw a situation where a home was completely obliterated, Vilsack said. Right next to it, two others were untouched.
HOW WILDFIRES BURN HOMES
That doesnt surprise Jack Cohen, the U.S. Forest Service fire researcher who has studied how wildfire burns homes and whose work is the foundation of firewise programs across the nation.
Part of the problem is the way we perceive a large fire burning in a subdivision.
It doesnt burn like one big mass into a subdivision. Rather, the fire launches embers ahead, causing thousands of ignition points on houses and vegetation that can overwhelm even the best-equipped and -manned fire department.
Thats why houses can be destroyed with shrubs and yards still green, he said.
Its a difficult task to protect all those homes, Vilsack said.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484