Officially, lightning and suspected arson caused Colorado's record wildfires—but scientists say the real culprit is climate change. The science is simple: Warmer temperatures diminish winter snow and kill off spring rain, leaving state land a parched tinder box ready to go up in flames. And Colorado is not alone: “We’ve had record fires in 10 states in the last decade, most of them in the West,” says US agriculture official Harris Sherman.
Colorado climate scientists didn't predict these historic fires, but years ago they did warn of hot and dry weather, early springs, and more droughts, the Washington Post reports. Adding to the state's woes are climate beetles that breed faster due to warmer winters; they munch on trees, leaving acres of possible firewood. What's more, Colorado—like neighboring New Mexico—has far too many homes in fire-risk zones. “It’s not a matter of if they burn, but when,” says one expert. (Read more climate change stories.)