11:02am

Fri November 8, 2013
Wildfires

Satellite Photos Show How Far Coloradans Have Moved Into Wildfire Zones

Are wildfires getting more severe or are more Coloradans moving into fire prone areas? Seen from space, development in the wildland urban interface near Colorado Springs has grown significantly.

These photos courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory are a stunning example of the amount of growth that’s occurred in the wildland urban interface.

The first photo above, taken June 22, 2013 – with a visible Waldo Canyon burn scar – shows how far human development has entered into areas prone to wildfire. Compare that to this second photo from June 23, 1985 and you can see the growth. Neighborhoods hard hit by the Waldo Canyon Fire, like Mountain Shadows, didn’t even exist yet.

Pike National Forest and the city of Colorado Springs, June, 1985.
Credit Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, Caption by Adam Voiland / NASA Earth Observatory

Take a look at this side-by-side comparison built by NASA to get a better sense of Colorado Springs' growth.

Colorado State University describes the WUI as “any area where man-made improvements are built close to, or within, natural terrain and flammable vegetation, and where high potential for wildland fire exists.” They say over the past few decades human development has occurred in areas prone to regular fires as well as into areas that need fires to remain healthy.

A 2012 I-News investigation found in the past two decades, many across the state have moved into the WUI, or 'red zones:'

Today, 1.1 million Coloradans live in more than half a million homes in red zones across the state, an I-News analysis found. That’s one of every four homes and one of every five people in the state. In some counties, including Pitkin – home to Aspen – Teller and Summit counties, more than 90 percent of the population lives in a red zone.

According to a September bulletin [.pdf] issued by the U.S. Forest Service, movement into the WUI is only going to increase. Why? The bulletin says one reason is the increasing amount of retiring baby-boomers moving to areas they’re attracted to: lakes, forests, and mountains.

That’s the kind of nature Colorado has in spades.

It’s also another reason why the city of Colorado Springs amended their fire codes in 2012 to include mitigation efforts, and fire resistant materials [.pdf].

Read More: In West’s Expanding Tinderbox, Questions About Development

H/T to NASA EO on Twitter.