A Colorado wildfire has blazed across northeastern portions of the state, fueled by tinder-dry grass and winds “strong enough to blow a grown man off his feet.”
Five homes have been lost so far in the fire which quickly engulfed 30,000 acres of Colorado grassland. Many more homes have been damaged. At least 15 barns and other outbuildings have also been lost. As well as dozens of head of cattle, and an untold number of vehicles and tractors.
The following video clip demonstrates just how quickly a grassfire can spread:
According to regional fire officer Matt Branch, wildfires on the Eastern Plains of Colorado are not unusual in March. What is unusual, he said, is the sheer amount of acreage involved.
Fire officials say flare-ups are likely because of the strong wind. In addition, the blowing smoke and dust are causing poor visibility.
Tall grass burns fast and hot, according to Denise Gutzmer, a drought impact specialist for the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. “Grass that’s compacted on the ground smolders for long periods and can re-ignite the fires.”
The following graphic indicates where grasses (like the invasive Cheatgrass) typically fall in the spectrum of combustible plants:
Up to 80 firefighters from 13 agencies have been battling the blaze, emergency fire managers said. In Haxtun, a town of about 900 people, volunteer firefighters and local farmers banded together to prevent the wind-whipped blaze from destroying the town.
“It’s pretty devastating to a lot of the farmers and ranchers,” said Joe Kinni, Phillips County Commissioner. “The economic damage to this county is going to be powerful.”
Farmers say it can take between three and five years for a field to recover after it has been burned in such a wildfire. Residents in Haxtun began taking up collections for those who have been displaced from their homes.
The Colorado wildfire is part of a recent surge of wildfires that have scorched hundreds of square miles in four states, including Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Six people have died and thousands of others have been forced to flee their homes ahead of the wind-whipped flames.
Wildfire warnings have been issued for Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska, indicating that conditions in those states are ripe for wildfires, as well.