There have been 46,148 wildfires in the Northwestern United States in 2020. This recent spike in forest fires has the scientific community scrambling to answer some important questions. Why are these wildfires becoming more frequent and more intense? What will the impact be on the environment?
Scientists agree that the main cause of these wildfires is climate change. Climate change induces higher temperatures and droughts, which in turn create ideal conditions for wildfires. Governor Jay Inslee of Washington has been watching his state burn for weeks. “This is not an act of God. It happened because we changed the climate in the state of Washington in dramatic ways”. Inslee also said that fires across the Northwest and California shouldn’t be called wildfires, but “climate fires”. In addition to climate change, the windy conditions of coastal states exacerbate the spread and intensity of wildfires.
It is no wonder why firefighters have such a hard time getting the wildfires under control – high winds make any fight a losing battle. Unfortunately, the problem does not stop at climate change and high winds. Human-caused ignitions comprise a startling amount of wildfires, with a study published by the University of Colorado finding that humans are responsible for 97 percent of the ignitions that caused wildfires between 1992 and 2015. The impact of these fires on the environment has been detrimental, as the flames destroy homes and wildlife habitats at a rapid rate, and severely pollute the air we breathe.
These wildfires have burned 8,404,047 acres so far this year and produced immense amounts of heavy smoke in California, Oregon, and Colorado. The impact of that smoke can still be felt hundreds of miles away, as it stretches across the United States, wreaking havoc from coast to coast, making it impossible to see, and damaging the eyes, throat, and lungs.
Doctors are concerned that the smoke from these fires will not only cause damage to the hearts and lungs of people who are near the flames, but also prompt negative genetic changes that can be passed down through generations. Clearly, this problem is not going away in the near future. Until we deal with climate change and human ignitions in the wildlife-urban interface, the fires are going to continue to burn.