Photo from pixabay.com
Smoke filled the sky. Ash crept into the lungs of Pacific North Westians. It felt as though the long summer would never end. While most children in the country filled their summer days with swimming pools and freedom from school, parents on the west coast held their children indoors. They limited exposure to the hazardous smoke filled conditions that surrounded them for the entire nearby radius. In Oregon and California the wildfires burned like hellfire as the residents of both states desperately dreamed of the mercy of winter.
Summer’s should not be spent wishing for it to end, but that may be the reality we face in the Pacific Northwest.
Climate Change and Wildfires:
Over 97% of the Scientific Community agrees, climate change exists and is human caused. Oregonians witnessed the fiery impacts for the last decade. 2018 brought some of the worst wildfires ever recorded. Anecdotally, many residents remember a time when wildfires were few and far less intense. “Fire season” entered Oregonian vernacular in the early 2000s after large fires such as the Biscuit fire of 2002 ravished the forests.
In just over a century the global temperature warmed nearly three quarters of a degree Celsius. That may not sound impressive to someone unfamiliar with climate science, but that increase happened at rate ten times faster than the ice-age recovery period. Those higher average temperatures lead to drier, hotter summers, earlier springs, and shorter winters. Higher temperatures also attract lightning storms. This is a recipe for harsh infernos.
For much of the Summer Oregon reportedly had some of the worst air quality in the world. With most summer days in the unhealthy and even hazardous categories, no one in Oregon avoided the consequences of wildfire smoke. It’s hard to predict the extent of health outcomes from the prolonged smoke exposure, but the most vulnerable populations will expect the brunt of it. This includes children, seniors, and those with pre-existing heart and lung problems. Likely in the coming decades Oregon will see an increase in lung disease cases.
Effect on Wildlife in Urban Areas:
With their homes burning to the ground, the wildfires forced wildlife into urban populations. Cougar sightings spiked in the Southern Oregon area. The fires forced many animals, including deer out of the woods and into towns like Ashland and Medford. The cougars follow their food and therefore lead to run ins with people and domestic animals. Back in late August, one Gold Hill farmer reported that a cougar had been killing his livestock and leaving him and his family in a state of unease. Around the same time a hiker from Gresham Oregon met an untimely end while hiking Mount Hood. The autopsy confirmed death by cougar attack. As raging wildfires consume resources, animals will compete for territory. That means with humans too. Wildlife sightings will likely only increase and more run ins with predators will too, as they are just trying to survive themselves.
We started seeing the effects of climate change in the western U.S. Uncontrollable wildfires devastate communities. Due to the increase in global temperature and drier climate, lightning storms come in greater frequency and severity. The next two challenges for our society are 1. How to reduce the impacts and 2. How to prepare for harsher fire seasons to come. Even if man made carbon emissions significantly reduced, this new reality still stands. We can’t reverse what has been done, but we can reduce it and preserve our natural home. Since we can’t reverse the situation, we need to adapt to it. That includes greater education among the population about fire prevention. Systems need placed to prevent human-caused fire as well as systems to tackle fires quickly and efficiently. The world as we know if is always changing, but it’s our responsibility to care for it.