"The fires we're seeing this year are what scientists are taking to calling mega fires," Tim Sullivan, State Director for The Nature Conservancy, said. "They're fires that burn incredibly hot, incredibly destructive and across tens of thousands of acres. These are fires we have really never seen in the historical records. Scientists have gone back and while fire is common, fires of this scale, size and destructiveness are not common."
Sullivan, who is a biologist, forest ecologist and a wildland firefighter, believes the forests are overgrown and creating conditions that foster the mega fires.
"The basic message is that our forests are going to burn one way or another and the more we can do in advance of these mega fires by doing forest management, thinning of trees and prescribed fire the better we're going to be off," Sullivan said.
Five years ago, the Nature Conservancy created the Southern Rockies Wildland Fire Module. The seven-person fire team works with the U.S. Forest Service to conduct controlled burns and tree thinning throughout the Rockies.
While there is a fiscal impact to managing the forests, Sullivan says the figure pales in comparison to the $2 billion on average spent nationally to fight forest fires.
"You save money in terms of cost, but you also prevent the horrible human heart ache that we're seeing of people losing their homes," Sullivan said.
The Nature Conservancy estimates that 1.5 million acres of forest along the Front Range are overgrown and at risk of a mega fire.
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)