Case Histories

Hayman Fire(2002) by the U.S. Forest Service from the publication”Hayman Fire Case Study

In 2002 much of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado was rich in dry vegetation as a result of fire exclusion and the droughty conditions that prevailed in recent years. These dry and heavy fuel loadings were continuous along the South Platte River corridor located between Denver and Colorado Springs on the Front Range. These topographic and fuel conditions combined with a dry and windy weather system centered over eastern Washington to produce ideal burning conditions. The start of the Hayman Fire was timed and located perfectly to take advantage of these conditions resulting in a wildfire run in 1 day of over 60,000 acres and finally impacting over 138,000 acres. The Hayman Fire Case Study, involving more than 60 scientists and professionals from throughout the United States, examined how the fire behaved, the effects of fuel treatments on burn severity, the emissions produced, the ecological (for example, soil, vegetation, animals) effects, the home destruction, postfire rehabilitation activities, and the social and economic issues surrounding the Hayman Fire. The Hayman Fire Case Study revealed much about wildfires and their interactions with both the social and natural environments. As the largest fire in Colorado history it had a profound impact both locally and nationally. The findings of this study will inform both private and public decisions on the management of natural resources and how individuals, communities, and organizations can prepare for wildfire events.

South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain(1994) by the U.S. Forest Service from the publication “Fire Behavior Associated with the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Stom King Mountain, Colorado

Lightning ignited the South Canyon Fire on the afternoon of July 2, 1994. For the next 48 hours, the fire burned downslope in the leaves, twigs, and cured grasses covering the ground surface. By 1200 on July 4 the fire had burned approximately 3 acres. It continued to spread downslope through the day on July 5, covering approximately 50 acres by the end of the day. General fire activity consisted of low intensity downslope spread with intermittent flareups and short duration upslope runs in the fire’s interior. The fire remained active through the night covering approximately 127 acres by morning on July 6.

On July 6 the fire continued to burn downslope through the surface fuels. At approximately 1520 a dry cold front passed over the area. Winds in the bottom of the drainage immediately west of the ignition point were estimated to be from the south (upcanyon) at 30 to 45 miles per hour. About 1555 several upslope fire runs occurred in the grass and conifers on the west-facing slope near the southwest corner of the fire’s interior. Shortly after the crown fire runs, witnesses observed fire in the bottom of the drainage, directly west of the ridgetop ignition point. Pushed by the upcanyon winds, the fire in the drainage spread rapidly north. As this fire spread north and east, fuel, slope, and wind conditions combined to result in sustained fire spread through the live green Gambel oak canopy. The fire began burning as a high-intensity fast-moving continuous front. We estimate that the fire moved north up the drainage at about 3 feet per second. Steep slopes and strong west winds triggered frequent upslope (eastward) fire runs toward the top of the ridge. These upslope runs spread at 6 to 9 feet per second. A short time later the fire overran and killed 14 firefighters.

The South Canyon Fire tragically demonstrates the fire behavior that can occur given the appropriate combination of influencing factors. While fire behavior during the afternoon of July 6, 1994, can be characterized as extreme, it was normal and could be expected given the environmental conditions. Similar alignments of fire environment factors and the resulting fire behavior are not uncommon. The uncommon and tragic fact associated with this fire was that 14 firefighters were entrapped and killed by it.