Side Note

The West is on fire (again)

Living in the Western US was no easy task last summer. There was smoke. There was ash. I got a headache every time I left the house. Most days the haze was so thick I couldn’t see down the street, but I could still see the sun. “It’s not usually like this, it’s just especially bad this year,” my neighbors told me. And indeed, 2017 was the costliest year ever for US wildfires. But it turns out Inferno Season is just a new normal for about half of the country.

As the US Forest Service told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week, last year’s fires killed 54 people, destroyed more than 12,300 homes, and burned “an area larger than the state of Maryland.” And the Service is gearing up for more of the same, calling their very expensive routine of combating the fires “the new normal.”

As you’re reading this, wildfires are burning across Colorado, New Mexico, California, Utah, and Texas. The outlook for Western states that aren’t currently on fire isn’t any better. All of this is tied to warmer than average temperatures across the country (coinciding with a drier than average season in the Pacific Northwest) as well as good old climate change. Though there are human factors as well. PG&E is possibly on the hook for some of the damage for last year's California fires and a teenager in Oregon was ordered to pay $36 million for causing wildfires there last September.

Considering how wildfires affected human and wildlife last year, evacuations, lost homes, toxic air, and biking in gas masks are about to become an apocalyptic but routine part of living in many parts of the West. Anyone looking to escape to the East can deal with hurricane season instead.