Wildfires spread in American West at destructive rates

Abi Zajac, Opinion Editor

As many know the American West is now “a hellish landscape of smoke and ash,” according to New York Times’ reporters Thomas Fuller and Jack Healy.

People across the country are in outrage about the level of detrimental destruction caused to the West’s biosphere, but this problem has been a long time coming and the very people mad about it, might be part of the problem.

Orange skies cover San Francisco, much of Oregon and Washington. Whole towns have been essentially burned to the ground.

These fires are being fueled by dry conditions, high temperatures, and especially strong, swirling winds, according to Associated Press.

An official death count cannot be released because the fires are still raging, but at least 33 deaths have been reported so far, according to the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

Most of the California fires are caused by people. The most infamous is the El Dorado fire, caused by a pyrotechnic device used for a gender reveal party, according to CNN. One of the Oregon fires was caused by trees knocking down power line, according to the Statesman Journal.

Wildfires are not a new thing to anyone living in Western America; in fact, they actually have a wildfire season. It is normal for an ecosystem to need to remove or burn plants to prevent overgrowth of native species, but this year’s wildfire season if off to a particularly bad start.

That means the fires are hotter, covering more acres, and lasting longer than ever seen before.

Illinois averaged 57 wildfires per year, burning an average of 881 acres per year according to a 2002-2014 study by the Midwest Rural Energy Council. That is average, healthy amount of wildfires, but that does not mean that it could not become a problem in the future.

“Climate change is driving the severity of the fire,” New York Times reporter, Jill Cowen said.

“In the coming decades, the state will have more extremely hot days, which may harm public health in urban areas and corn harvests in rural areas,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency . “Over the last half century, average annual precipitation in most of the Midwest has increased by 5 to 10 percent.”

That means more frequent flooding and hotter temperatures in Illinois.

So how does one single person combat an issue as big as wildfires? Well, it’s impossible is the short answer. It’s impossible to stop the fires and they should not be stopped completely. What we can strive for is the controlling of fires. This can come from prescribed burns, intentionally burning areas with excess vegetation.

Edwardsville ordinances allow prescribed burns with permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and there is a $750 fine if you burn without one.

All it take to get a wildfire burning is the right climate, plenty of fuel, and a spark, according to National Geographic.

“People are changing all three of those,” Jennifer Balch, a fire ecologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder said. “Climate change is not the only thing going on, but it is a big and important part of the story.”

The Earth is warming, because we humans are releasing greenhouse gases by driving cars, heating our homes, and keeping our lights on.

According to epa.gov: “Human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years. The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in the United States is from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation.”

You have every right to be outraged about the insane amount of wildfires in the west, every American should be, but just know you are also part of the problem.