How We Went from Fire Season to Fire Year

by Madison Cavallaro

Although most of the west coast doesn't experience the 'seasons' like our east coast companions, fire season is unique to this side of the coast. Fires can be a natural part of the environment over in the dry climate of California. Yet the intensely dry season, catalyzed by warmer temperatures in the spring and summer with reduced snowpack and earlier snowmelt, is starting earlier each year and ending later. You might say this "fire season" is turning into a "fire year," considering California is just one of the states in the west experiencing more devastating fires than ever before. Just a few weeks ago, the National Interagency Fire Center increased its preparedness level from 4 to 5, meaning the highest level of wildfire activity erupting in multiple geographical locations. Our fire personnel are moving from blaze to blaze in California, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon, concerned about exhausting fire resources.

 

Smokey the Bear Has a Point

While Climate change isn't igniting these fires (we've had plenty of people taking care of that for us), it has undoubtedly turned the once known mild fire into multiple-acre catastrophic infernos. Like previously mentioned, the spring and summer seasons are hitting record highs, increasing hot, dry, and windy weather around the U.S. This increases the amount of available fuel to the fire when these fires have access to more dry vegetation than ever before. High temperatures also make droughts worse. Dry soil and plants paired with high winds are why we see record-breaking wildfires over thousands of acres in short periods.

Climate change, at no surprise to many of us, is impacting weather patterns in numerous ways. While hotter seasons and shorter winters have been doing their damage, climate change is putting in work on the pacific ocean. Warmer sea surface temperatures have contributed to drought in blocking rain from reaching the west coast states. Thanks to all the climate change-mediated changes in the landscape, weather, and temperatures, it is "safe" to say climate change has doubled the area burned during fires. The Western U.S. saw an increase in fire season by 2 months, and in California, extreme fire weather frequency has doubled. Even 8 years ago, California recorded 601,635 acres burned with just 1 fatality, but 2020 closed out with 4,257,863 acres burned and 33 deaths. This is significantly increased damage, lives lost, and structures destroyed.

 

If You Think it’s Over-Exaggerated, Think Again

Wildfires aren't just deadly and destructive to the environment. Fires are just as damaging to us. I'm not just talking about physical or mental health because those may be self-explanatory. Social issues also result from wildfires- impacting housing security, access to food, and employment. Workers on hourly wages are more likely to see unemployment after a wildfire. Salaried workers will continue to be paid even if they close or the building burns down. 

Obviously, when your home is lost or damaged by a fire, there is displacement and insecurity. Less apparent, though, is the domino effect this will have on the housing market. Not to mention, impacted low-income residents will particularly suffer as houses in wildfire areas will become scanty post-fire, driving up prices. Even individuals who may have not been directly affected by the fire will sometimes experience the worse end of this. They usually do not have access to recovery resources, ending up homeless displaced by fire survivors. The social impacts from worsening fires heighten the intersection of racism with environmental injustice. Fires heavily impact low-income communities, and POC communities concentrated on Federal Indian Reserves. Most of these individuals do not have the economic means to cope or prevent large-scale fires with mitigation services. Which could be the difference between losing your entire house or losing some of your lawn furniture. 

 

Consequences on Consequences

Deadly fires take lives and expose impacted communities to air pollution, exacerbating asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Air pollution and wildfire debris will pollute rivers and water supplies, creating toxic runoffs. This is good for anyone, and even if you aren't physically impacted by a fire, you will be sure to experience the health implications. Smoke contains a cocktail of various volatile compounds affecting the air quality, even downwind of fires. Based on global assessments, thousands of deaths occur annually associated with wildfires affecting air quality for those especially vulnerable. As Climate change rages on while our representatives do very little to reverse it, more harmful impacts are to come.

Each of these complex issues intersects with one another, perpetuating long-term impacts on physical and mental health, as well as the environment. Access to healthcare ripples through communities when buildings are destroyed, putting a burden on those who didn't, most of the time hospitals and emergency centers. Not to mention, the communities most vulnerable in fires are POC and low-income, so affording healthcare can be a hurdle to recovery.

Each year that passes, globally, we are setting records related to fire season, warm temperatures, and intense winters. Unfortunately, this will probably get worse before it gets better. We have already seen such drastic consequences from wildfires swallowing up landscapes faster than ever before. Climate change unaddressed will only worsen this. Like every other Blank, this isn't a one-person job, and the issues are systemic. Representatives who fight for green policies and support climate change initiatives will be pillars in addressing the scary future of our world if left to human devices.

How to Help Victims of the California Wildfires

  • Amador Community Foundation  is providing support and valuable resources to impacted communities. As well as providing donations to ACART for large animal care for those impacted by the fire with livestock.
  • Hands 4 Hope The El Dorado Community Foundation and Hands4Hope - Youth Making A Difference are partnering to connect fire victims with needed services.

 

Sources: 1 Fire / 2 NY Mag / 3 NPR 4 Climate Signals


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