Western Fire and States Rights?

smoky

Smoky Sunrise, Summer of 2012 in North Park, Colorado

With the west at Fire Preparedness Level 5, 65 major fires currently burning on 7.5 million acres, fought by 27,000 firefighters, 3 of whom perished in the last week, it seems like a good time to talk about who’s battling these annual catastrophic summer blazes. Everyone. The Federal government coordinates, and battles western fires alongside state, tribal, and local agencies. In these drier, hotter, more drought stricken times, fire is inextricably linked to water and climate change, particularly on vulnerable western lands covered with millions of acres of invasive, highly flammable cheatgrass. The image attached here was made on a memorable August morning, the day after several large fires blew up in Idaho, but I didn’t know it at the time. The smoke was so thick, acrid, and lung-choking that I thought there must be a major fire in the nearby Zirkel Range. But, as we’re seeing right now, smoke, particulates, and all the nasty haze float on the jet stream and will visit you wherever you live in the west. The states rights folks who “want to take the country back” don’t seem to understand that their state, any state doesn’t have the resources to fight these ever expanding annual fire events that last for weeks or months before first snows clear the air – termination dust used to mean the end of the season. I’m grateful to Secretary Jewell for the hard work of our Department of Interior to battle fire at its highest, most dangerous level. States rights? They’re not up to the task.

Wake Of The Flood

Big Thompson Destruction

A curve on Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon gives a glimpse of the devastation from the September 2013 flood.

With so much devastation in the wake of our historic 1,000 year flood event in September, there are still many closed roads, standing water, and Front Range canyons are shut off, isolating rural communities. Fortunately, I was able to fly with LightHawk pilot John Feagin on September 30 to see first hand the scale of the flood around Greeley and the lower Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland. Two weeks later, and after the news organizations have moved on, Colorado has a very long way to go as we recover. These images support the Platte Basin Timelapse story of a river that matters far beyond our relatively small geographic area. Continue reading “Wake Of The Flood”

Colorado Flood

Sterling-Flood-home

Flooded home outside of Sterling, Colorado on 9/16/13.

We needed the moisture when it started raining. By the time it stopped, the damage was incalculable, access to Front Range canyons shut off, 200 people missing, towns and businesses closed. The town of Lyons won’t be habitable for six months after Saint Vrain Creek wreaked havoc when it exploded from the canyon. Unable to make photos in the canyons close to home, I headed east to photograph the flood as it crested on the South Platte River in Sterling, a wall of water marching east to Nebraska and the Missouri River. Most of my images show water flowing where it isn’t supposed to be, this image included; but here the residents appear to be snagging belongings in the swollen river, depositing them in plastic bags. It will take some time to calculate the financial loss, human and environmental impact long after the media leaves this story for the next one.

Chasing Ice

We went to see Chasing Ice at the Boulder Theatre last night – it’s the story of our time. James Balog inspires with his superhuman dedication to the story; and the footage, well you’ll just have to see it to believe it. Whether you’re a climate change believer or not, go see this movie! Afterwards, James (who lives in Boulder) came out and answered questions. He shared a message of hope in spite of what we had just witnessed. This was an event that we’ll never forget.