2013-06-25

Beetles to blame for Colorado's fires? Blame climate change instead

Tiny, winged bark beetles have been the ecological bad guys of the West for more than a decade, and rightfully so. They've killed off millions of acres' worth of trees in Colorado. Now all those dead trees are feeding the flames across tens of thousands of acres in the southern part of the state.

The West Fork Complex fire raging through southwest Colorado has already burned through more than 75,000 acres, including wide stretches of tinder-dry trees hit by beetle damage. With 600 people evacuated from homes, and nearly 900 firefighters on the scene, it is considered to be the worst fire to hit the Rio Grande National Forest.

Fire crews don't expect to make much progress on containing the inferno — actually three lightning-sparked blazes that have joined together — until they get some rain and cooler temperatures. That's a grim outlook, made grimmer by the droughts and summer heat that scientists have linked to global climate change.