Aspen Community Foundation addresses changing face of wildfire |

Aspen Community Foundation addresses changing face of wildfire

Matthew Bennett
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
National Geographic science writer and authoer Gary Gerguson speaks to members of the public and fire officials during the Changing Face of Wildfire forum at the Glenwood Springs Community Center on Wednesday evening.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Wednesday evening, the Aspen Community Foundation hosted a forum at the Glenwood Springs Community Center, which heard from forest service supervisors, a National Geographic science writer and author as well as local fire chiefs titled “The Changing Face of Wildfire.”

As audience members awaited the evenings speakers, they first heard the 911 calls dispatch also listened to the evening the Lake Christine Fire blew up, followed by still images of its furious flames, devastating destruction and the first responders, countless volunteers and the community it brought together.

“Few who lived through the Lake Christine Fire will ever forget it,” forum moderator and former Aspen Mayor John S. Bennett said at the beginning of the event.

The first speaker of the evening, White River National Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, said the Lake Christine Fire’s eruption wasn’t what surprised him but rather the fact that only three homes were lost considering the severe situation on the ground.

“I don’t think a fire like Lake Christine is going to be an oddity in the future,” Fitzwilliams added. “Fire is here to stay.”

The forum was the second of three, with the first held Tuesday in Basalt and last in the series at 5:30 tonight in Aspen at the Doerr-Hosier Center at the Aspen Institute.

National Geographic science writer Gary Ferguson, who recently authored “Land On Fire: The New Reality of Wildfire In The West,” echoed Fitzwilliams on Wednesday night but also went on to describe how thousands of years’ worth of fires actually produced a lot of the beauty the Roaring Fork Valley displays today; however, Ferguson quickly discerned the difference between the routine fires of the past as opposed to the 200-foot-tall flames and 2,000-degree fires which has become the new norm.

“The climate is changing,” Ferguson said. “Now they’re not fire seasons, they’re fire years.”

Ferguson presented rigorous scientific numerical data and thermal geographic images but also detailed how simple mitigation techniques go a long way.

“Our forests are precious for a lot of reasons,” Ferguson said. “We can do an awful lot to save them. … It’s a reason to come together as a community,”

Following Ferguson, Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson took to the podium and said, “The nightmare happened to me this year,” describing how without the help of other local fire departments, national hotshot crews and volunteers, who knows how the Lake Christine Fire could have played out.

Thompson described how 100 homes in El Jebel would have been lost had it not been for firefighters putting their lives, literally, in between flames and property.

“We need to work with our politicians,” Thompson said. He also iterated how personal responsibility pertains to fire mitigation and that it should be at the forefront of every Roaring Fork Valley resident’s mind.

Echoing much of Thompson’s rhetoric, Greater Eagle Fire Chief Doug Cupp told the audience, “We live in chaos. That is what firefighters do.”

Pointing at a picture of El Jebel, which showed a charred mountainside on the left next to a community still alive and intact on the right, the Greater Eagle fire chief who made life-or-death decisions the night El Jebel was in dire danger said that had it not been the key communication between firefighters and law enforcement, that picture would look tragically different.