Science Notes

The 37E Fire and the New Normal

April 26, 2022

By Dave Newport, LEED AP

Director, CU Environmental Center

Ironically, I was at home on a Zoom call with Colorado Local Science Engagement Network (CO LSEN) lead (& ENVS Chair & Professor) Max Boycoff and CU Boulder Chief Sustainability Officer Heidi VanGenderan talking about carbon offsets when my daughter came home and said, “there’s a fire right across the street.” I hung up the call immediately.

It was April 15, 2022. We had already seen fire season pick up where it left off last  Fall  December. It was sunny and warm, wind blowing, and very dry. No precipitation had fallen thus far in April. Colorado was again preparing to burn baby burn.

We live in very southern Larimer County, just a few miles east of Rabbit Mountain. My mind immediately flashed back to the Cameron Peak fire in 2020. That rampage burned over 200,000 acres of Larimer and Jackson Counties, had been charging east apace and was only defeated by heroic fire fighters (and timely weather) just miles from the cities of Ft. Collins and Loveland to our north.

We beheld Cameron’s roar from our backyard at night as it torched over the mountains behind Carter Lake like a massive conquering army, just eight miles NW of us. We started to plan evacuation, hooked up the horse trailer, and made calls to friends who could shelter us and our animals. In the end, we didn’t have to leave; but, it took over 5-months to defeat that fire.

To our south, the recent Cal-Wood & Lefthand Canyon Fires queued recollection of burning destruction advancing over the foothills north of Boulder, jumping over US 36 north of Lefthand Canyon, and marching toward Longmont, just five miles SE of our home. 

Of course, the Marshall Fire’s 24-hour blitzkrieg of a 1,000 Broomfield homes in late 2021 feeds all Coloradans’ PTSD. Will today’s fire be the one that shoots little burning missiles of flaming shrapnel onto our super ready-to-burn surroundings?

Running out my front door on April 15th, my plan against fires indicated a quick assessment of the fire’s location and wind direction that portend a quick destructive strike. We appeared to be safe for the time being. The wind was blowing the fire north. But if it turned its artillery to boom from the west, it would be aiming at us. A five-mile striking range within hours was just proven possible in the Marshall Fire. 

Fortunately for us, the universe granted us continued occupancy of our home, for now. The 37E fire’s soldiers had to settle for a scant 114 acres of conquest. Yet we know they were only testing our defenses. They will be back. Fire, drought and despoliation is seemingly the plan for Colorado and much of the West for the foreseeable future. 

Reconnecting with Max and Heidi at work, I wrestled with the insignificance of buying a few thousand tons of carbon offsets in the fight against fire’s biggest ally: climate change. Notwithstanding, offsets are among the many, many things we must do to fight and survive—while planning for the next fire’s assault against Colorado, my home, your home, all of us, our place in the Universe. Living with fire is the New Normal. 

Keep your escape bag packed.


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