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Colorado Battles Largest Wildfire in State History

Climate
Colorado Battles Largest Wildfire in State History
Heavy Smoke rises from the Cameron Peak fire as it continues to burn on Oct. 5, 2020 in Larimer County near Fort Collins, Colorado. Helen H. Richardson / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post via Getty Images

For the second time this year, Colorado is battling the largest wildfire in state history.


Strong winds pushed the Cameron Peak fire 17 miles to the east Tuesday and Wednesday, Wildfire Today reported. It burned more than 20,000 acres in a single day, swelling to 158,300 acres by 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and placing at least nine new areas under evacuation orders, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reported.

"This really was almost an epic day for doing evacuations and again, for everybody that's been moved, I know it's extremely difficult," officials said Wednesday night, as CBS4 Denver reported. "We do know that we lost structures today and for anybody who is impacted, you know, our heart goes out to you."

One family lost two cabins they owned in the Buckhorn Canyon area.

"The materials is one thing," Parker Hutchinson told CBS4 Denver. "But the amount of family heirlooms and just the memories of that area, they've been burned."

Despite these individual tragedies, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said the day could have been even worse.

"We have no reported injuries, no deaths, a lot fewer structures were impacted that we truly anticipated based on what we saw with that said, there's certainly a lot of folks that got hit," he said, as Colorado Public Radio reported.

The Cameron Peak fire has been burning since Aug. 13 in the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forest. It has persisted despite a snowstorm in early September and more snow on Sunday, fueled by high winds and drought. It had already destroyed or damaged 99 structures before exploding Tuesday, and officials said conditions were still too dangerous to assess the total number of buildings impacted in the last 24 hours. It is now 56 percent contained and more than 1,000 people are fighting it.

The fire is burning to the west of Fort Collins, but Smith said he did not think the flames would reach that more populous area or the nearby city of Loveland because they are protected by bodies of water and a lack of the heavy timber that feeds the flames.

The two largest fires in Colorado history both ignited this year. The Cameron Peak fire unseated the Pine Gulch fire, which burned 139,007 acres over the summer and held the record for only 48 days.

The ten largest fires in Colorado history all took place in the last 20 years, and seven took place in the last 10, according to figures reported by the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

As of August, 2020 was Colorado's third driest year on record and twelfth warmest, according to Colorado Public Radio. Almost a fourth of the state is experiencing extreme drought. These fire-fueling conditions are in line with what scientists say the climate crisis will do to the state.

"What we're seeing here is indicative of the fact that when the hot, dry years come around, they're hotter than most of the time when they've occurred in the past," state climatologist Russ Schumacher told Colorado Public Radio. "And that's pretty well in line with what climate projections have been saying for some time."

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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