We Can't Afford to Ignore These Fires

This red image was taken on Sept. 9 without a filter or lighting adjustments at the farm of family friends in Canby, OR. The farm was located less than five miles from the edge of the wildfires.  Photo courtesy of Adam J. ManleyThe West is covered in clouds of smoke and haze. Wildfires across the West Coast are devastating and difficult to watch. More than 697,000 acres have been burned in Washington, and over four million acres in Oregon and California. Families are losing their homes. Animals are dying and losing critical habitats. Our places of respite are being destroyed. We’re losing so many of the trees that form the background of our lives, and provide the air we breathe.  The Golden Gate Bridge is shrouded in an orange smoky haze.

While our hearts are with the families who have been evacuated, those who have lost their homes, those who are dealing with the loss of family members and friends, and the brave firefighters battling these blazes, we must do more than simply send our thoughts and prayers.

According to news reports, over 500,000 Oregon residents have had to evacuate.  The New York Times says, “Climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has worsened the fires.”  Low humidity, high temperatures, and winds create dangerous conditions. “We’re seeing fires in places we don’t normally see fires,” said Crystal A. Kolden of the University of California, Merced. “Normally it’s far too wet to burn.”

Our state and federal governments must take real, proactive, preventative action against our wildfire and forest health crisis. As individuals, we must also take greater responsibility for the prevention of wildfires. As Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz, notes, 90 percent of our wildfires are caused by humans.

Looking out my window, I know we must make a commitment to prevent another fire season like this.  There is nowhere in the state that has clean air. The West Coast has the worst air quality in the world. We must make significant changes to protect our forests and our communities. This means following Commissioner Franz’s call to invest proactively in more firefighters, air resources, and in the health of our forests to prevent these mega-fires from happening in the future.

I want to thank the many members of our local community who are reaching out to help during this crisis. From offering housing, clothing, and other resources to displaced families, to those working to rescue animals impacted by the fires, to those on the front lines of the fires, to those taking smaller actions like making or finding N95 masks for community members whose health issues make it far more challenging to deal with horrible air quality. You are what makes our community and our state great. You deserve our thanks and our support.

We must find ways to help communities rebuild after these losses. We must help businesses recover. We must help those who have lost their homes find both temporary and long term shelter. Most significantly, we must work together to protect our forests and ensure we will never again see fires of this magnitude.

It will not be easy or quick.  The state must implement Commissioner Franz’s Forest Health Strategic Plan that will restore the health of 1.25 million acres of forest over the next 20 years.  That sounds like a long time, but its scale and pace are unprecedented.  It is time to act on climate change and forest health. We can’t afford to ignore these fires. The solutions will not be cheap, but the failure to act has a far greater cost.