Many people in the nine states of the PIA Western Alliance and the many of the agents and company representatives reading this have either experienced the fires directly or — for sure — have been breathing the smoke from flames that now stretch from Canada to California on the West coast and parts East into Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Colorado.
Or to put it differently, as this is written major fires are burning in the PIA Western Alliance states of Oregon, Washington, California, Montana and Nevada and in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. And as of Friday of last week, The National Interagency Coordination Center — which oversees state and federal fire response — said 47,705 fires have been reported since January 1st of this year. That’s slightly below the 10-year average.
Most fires are larger in size than the average so the acres burned will likely exceed the average. Again, at the time this is written the acreage burned so far this year is over 8 million acres and growing. That’s an area of 12,550 square miles total and about the size of the state of Maryland.
Normally — if there is a normal these days — the number of acres burned by this time of year is 5,516,000. That number tells you things are very, very bad.
Most of the fires — as we in the PIA Western Alliance states can attest — are in the northern Rocky Mountains and in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington. Both states are experiencing the worst fire season in years as is flames found in the Rockies.
In Oregon and Washington the historic Columbia Gorge is on fire. The Eagle Creek Fire — at the time this is written — is 7% contained and has burned over 34,000 acres. At one point, it leaped from the Oregon side of the Gorge to the Washington side. The acreage figure will no doubt grow. The fire shut down Interstate 84 from Portland to Cascade Locks about 40 miles away from the state’s largest city. River traffic was stopped until Monday. At press time, the highway is still closed to traffic in that section.
The fire started when a group of teens started throwing smoke bombs off a cliff along a trail.
Oregon has 640,000 acres on fire. Smoke has blotted out the sun in Oregon, Washington and in other Western states. The smoke has created almost apocalyptic conditions. It has created dangerous living conditions for those with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
In Montana, Glacier National Park has seen 20 fires so far this year. Park spokesman Mike Johnson said 18 were under control almost immediately but two — the Adair Peak Fire and the Sprague Fire — have been burning since August 10th. To date 1.1 million acres are on fire in the Treasure State.
To date the U.S. Forest Service has spent $1.75 billion fighting fire. The Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service has pitched in another $400 million. Together the two agencies spent $2 billion last year and $2.1 billion in 2015.
Speaking in Portland, Oregon and addressing the Eagle Creek blaze Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said he and 11 other Democratic and Republican senators sent letters to the Senate leadership — specifically Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer — and said the federal response to fire needs to change.
Wyden said the U.S. Forest Service is low on money already and now will have to find $300 million from other accounts to fight fire. Much of that money is from funds needed for fire prevention. “Because we haven’t seen fires of this magnitude — I can’t recall ever seeing fires of this magnitude — we have got to use this moment,” Wyden said.
Climate scientist John Abatzoglou of the University of Idaho — and whose state is suffering from way too many fires — said we had a very wet winter and spring but since then it has been bone dry. “We went from waterlogged to wilted,” he said and pointed out that California and Oregon had their warmest July and August ever and in Montana, July and August were the driest months ever.
“This is the perfect recipe for drying out fuels quickly, making the landscape susceptible to igniting and carrying fire, and very clearly has enabled the busy fire season,” Abatzoglou said.
He and Columbia University’s A. Park Williams say the real culprit is climate change. They issued a report a couple of years ago that claimed between 1984 and 2014 climate change has created more dry fuel for fires that has “approximately doubled the western U.S. forest fire area beyond that expected from natural climate variability alone.”
In his own comments, Abatzoglou added, “Man-made climate change is making things incrementally hotter and allowing for fuels to dry out that much faster. We have certainly seen more years favorable to large fire outbreaks — like the one we’re experiencing now — over the past half century.”
And he said when you add a “legacy of fire suppression and fuel accumulation” the result is a perfect fire storm season.
A high percentage of the fires are not caused by lightning but by careless humans. The biggest culprit in this fire season is a group of — what is being perceived as — careless and uncaring teens who — as said earlier — tossed smoke bombs and other fire starting material off a cliff in the Columbia Gorge setting off the fire that has blackened one of the most beautiful drives and hiking areas in the Northwest.
Oregonians and those living across the river in Washington are screaming for the hide of the 15-year old who actually threw the material. It has done millions in damage and many want the boy tossed in prison.
Since he’s a juvenile, authorities have not released his name nor the name of his friends and the accomplice who was shooting video of his crime. Authorities say he could do prison time and his parents might be responsible for a lot of the cost of the — again — millions of dollars in damages to the land and for the cost of fighting the fire.
Oregon does have a history of requiring restitution and jail time in these cases but isn’t very good at collecting the money. The link for this story offers more information on what may or may not happen to the young boy, his friends and his parents.
In Idaho, the Department of Lands sent an $84,500 bill to the parents of a juvenile who started a wildfire after using mortar-like fireworks. That fire burned 420 acres.
California also has a history of billing people for fire damage
Source links: The Washington Post, OregonLive.com, KGW TV