Mayfield Man Gives Perspective on Colorado Fires
By Bill Hughes, AP
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - A western Kentucky man now living in Colorado Springs says that the high humidity we complain about is a missing ingredient in fighting the fires near where he works.
Tom Sullivan is a Mayfield native, who now works at KLTF, a Christian station in Colorado Springs, located about 9 miles from the current wild fires.
He said, "Through the southeast, there's enough humidity - which we hate and complain about all the time - that keeps the air moist enough that you don't deal with lots of fires like that. Here, there is no moisture in the air."
Sullivan says a combination of a mild winter with little snow, very little spring rain, and unseasonably high temperatures (90-100 degrees) in early summer have created a "perfect storm" - ideal conditions for fires to develop.
Officials in Colorado Springs said Thursday that hundreds of homes have been destroyed by the raging Waldo Canyon wildfire that has encroached on the state's second-largest city and threatened the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Mayor Steve Bach said a more accurate account will soon be available of the damage from a blaze that has burned out of control for much of the week and forced more than 32,000 evacuees to frantically pack up belongings and flee, including over 500 Air Force Academy Cadets.
The cause of the blaze remains unknown and local authorities said Thursday that conditions are too dangerous for any such investigation to begin.
The wildfire was one of many burning across the parched West, blazes that have destroyed structures and prompted evacuations in Montana and Utah and forced the closure of a portion of Zion National Park.
Colorado's Thursday weather offered some hope for progress, with the temperature in the mid-80s - about 5 degrees cooler than Wednesday - and humidity 15 to 20 percent, about 5 percentage points higher.
In his new environment, Sullivan said, "There's just no moisture in the air. Now, that's nice most of the time, because you have no humidity, but when you're fighting a fire, unless you have rain, or unless you have a hose hooked up to fight it, there's no moisture to help you."
He adds that another problem is the location of the fires - on mountain ridges, where trucks can't get close to fight them. But the military has been extremely helpful by providing helicopters and planes that drop fire-fighting chemicals.
Winds were a huge factor in the spread of the blaze on Tuesday, and Sullivan got a look at how fast it can happen. A co-worker took him for a drive on a road that follows a long stretch of mountain ridges, and they saw some fires and a whole lot of smoke. About an hour after they returned to the station, the road they had traveled was made a mandatory evacuation route, because 65-mile-per-hour winds had expanded the blaze in a very short time.
"This was like a volcano exploding, in terms of its power - so quickly. It's just like a bomb went off. I have talked to people who were in the process of evacuating that area, and they were up at a higher elevation, and they could see houses, just like people were igniting them. A house could burn down in less than 20 minutes."
Sullivan says most of the fires are not in residential areas like they were Tuesday, but a change in wind patterns could create new problems quickly for more than 1,000 firefighters, who have contained only about 5% of the blaze.
Meanwhile, the White House said President Barack Obama will tour fire-stricken areas of Colorado on Friday and thank firefighters battling some of the worst fires to hit the American West in decades.