Why Are Wildfires So Bad In The Northwest This Year? Washington, California, Oregon, Idaho, & Montana Have All Seen Uncontrollable Blazes
Right now, more than 100 wildfires are burning across 1.1 million acres in the West. One particularly bad fire in Washington killed three firefighters and injured four others Wednesday. Fires are blazing in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana as well, forcing entire towns and campgrounds to evacuate, according to ABC. These wildfires have been blazing, in California, for example, for weeks, and now there aren't enough firefighters to contain them. So just why are wildfires in the Northwest bad this year? This year's drought in the West combined with climate change are not helping control the otherwise normal wildfires.
Contrary to what many people think, wildfires are actually a natural occurrence that helps a forest with regeneration and growth, according to Think Progress. But people often interfere with naturally occurring wildfires because they develop areas where wildfires occur. Fire suppression tactics have been employed for decades to stop wildfires, and climate change has also created hotter, dryer air. Furthermore, the West Coast is experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades, which means there's even more dryness. Suppression tactics combined with all the dry, hot weather means forests have a buildup of super-dry, dead fuel, which leads to more wildfires and a longer wildfire season. So, I hate to say the wildfires are partially our fault, but they're partially our fault and then just partially nature trying to regenerate.
Jason Funk, a senior climate scientist for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ThinkProgress that wildfires of this size can have far-reaching impacts on public health, water quality, and climate change:
These cascading impacts are the things that keep me up at night. We haven't been looking at them so much.
Unfortunately, the wildfires spanning across the West are out of the zones of controllable and naturally occurring. Since Tuesday, national fire officials have been on their highest possible alert, according to the Los Angeles Times. Because of the scale of this year's fires, the Department of Defense announced Tuesday that it was sending soldiers to help overextended fire crews fight the raging wildfires. Koshare Eagle, a spokeswoman at the Northwest Coordination Center in Portland, which oversees fire efforts in Washington and Oregon, told the LA Times that fire departments simply don't have the personnel to take on wildfires of this size:
Typically when we have this number of fires, we can draw on folks around the nation, [but] the other geographic regions are also trying to draw on folks around the nation.
Eagle said that there are so many fires that public and firefighter safety is becoming an issue, but she hopes the added resources will help departments better combat, contain, and predict fires in the future.