Wildfires Rage Across the West Coast

     The wildfires raging across the west coast have created endless stories of loss, grief and destruction. California, Oregon and Washington are erupting in fires in the worst wildfire season to date; these disasters have taken a devastating toll on the environment, firefighters and people already suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

     The environmental effects are overwhelming as the fires continue to bring down air quality and contribute to global warming. Mr. Menich and Ms. Timmons teamed up to explain the science behind the blaze. With destroyed habitats, some animals are forced to relocate into areas with high human populations. It decreases “biodiversity” and can alter the natural environment. The wildfires are another contributing factor to the worldwide problem of climate change. Mr Menich and Ms. Timmons explained, “During a forest fire, carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases, and aerosols are instead released into the atmosphere. All of these contribute to global climate change, with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases specifically having a warming effect.” As forest fires contribute to climate change, the long season and increasingly severe wildfires are also a result of climate change. According to Mr. Menich and Ms. Timmons, the main reason is that “global climate change has led to a longer dry season along the west coast which creates conditions that are more vulnerable to the rapid spread of a wildfire.”

     The forest fires have not only altered the environment, but they have also affected people struggling with the pandemic.The smoke irritates lungs and can severely make coronavirus symptoms worse. The CDC states, “Wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect your immune system, and make you more prone to lung infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.” As Mr. Menich and Ms. Timmons explained, aerosols are released into the atmosphere, which “particularly have damaging effects on respiratory issues.” In addition to this, officials are concerned that the virus will spread more easily because people are forced to live with others due to homes being destroyed. Testing sites and test production facilities are shut down due to air quality and are leading to a decrease in the number of COVID-19 tests conducted.

     Officials and firefighters are doing their best to stop the wildfires. The U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior state that they provide firefighters, aircraft, and equipment and use suppression systems. Firefighters remove heat by putting fire retardant on the ground or releasing it by plane. They cut and dig vegetation to stop the spread, and at times deliberately set fires to combat approaching ones. Even with these measures, countless homes are being destroyed, leaving families stranded. In California, there have been almost 9,300 houses and buildings burned down and 31 deaths. In Oregon, there have been nine deaths and over 4,000 homes burned.

     The wildfires still burning in the west are creating many new problems for the environment and for civilians, especially coupled with the spread of the coronavirus. With global warming, future fire seasons may be as bad or worse.