Wildfires & Air Pollution

Pristine Idaho, famous for outdoor activities and eco-tourism, has three of the twenty most polluted cities in America.  Why?  Because of wildfires.  A few days ago the US Wildfire Map showed almost 800 wildfires burning in America, 95% of them in the west ~ virtually every forested area west of the Mississippi River had major fires burning.  (Currently, there are “only” 110 active wildfires ~ but it’s only mid-April and the 6-month dry season has only begun.)  Compare the wildfire map to the US Drought Map, and it’s easy to see serious problems ahead ~ including in the entire state of Florida.

Last summer there were so many major wildfires out west that the air quality was horrific practically nationwide for a few weeks, an ugly haze over everything.  Living in a smoke-filled city out west is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes every day.  Widespread wildfires are no longer a rarity, but the annual norm.

Over 80% of wildfires are started by people.  Given the perpetuity of the wildfire-risk conditions, the best way to stop the wildfire threat is to stop people from starting them.  Personally, I think anybody responsible for starting a wildfire should be liable for all of the damages.

People scoff at the idea that “global warming is responsible for the exponential increase of wildfires.”  That’s a pretty simplistic explanation, if fundamentally valid.  It’s more accurate to say that climate change has increased the risk of large fires (dryer landmass, longer dry season, less snowfall, higher ambient temperatures).  Still skeptical?  The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has several graphs, showing the increase in large wildfires in virtually every forested reign of the U.S.

Whenever, and wherever you’re outside and in a forested area – hiking, cycling, camping, even driving for the scenery – please make a concerted effort to avoid any activity that might start a wildfire.  Plan beforehand.  Don’t leave anything to chance.  To quote Smokey the Bear, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”  (Just imagine all of the millions of wild animals that are killed, their habitat destroyed perhaps forever.)