Monday, September 11, 2017

'There is no escape. The entire state is burning.'

A wildfire burned in August in the Lolo National Forest in Montana.
(Great Falls Tribune photo by Rion Sanders)
Hurricanes are getting the lion's share of news-media attention, but wildfires are raging across the Western U.S. and Canada right now in one of the worst wildfire seasons in recorded history, Linda Wertheimer reports for NPR. The fires are coming at a time of year when temperatures are usually cooling and the fire season is normally winding down.

"We currently have about 123 large wildland fires across the nation. They are primarily in the Northwest," Chris Wilcox of the National Interagency Fire Center told Wertheimer. "Montana is another state that has been under the siege that we've seen this year, as well. So we have currently about 2 million acres on fire across the West." Wilcox said the fire season has been particularly long, and that it really started in the fall of 2016 in states to the south, sometimes torching grasslands, not forests. It stayed active there over the winter and has spread north and west.

Wilcox said the NIFC has more than 25,000 responders working on fires, but they are stretched thin. All the nation's wildfire-fighting resources are committed to battling the blaze, and the National Guard has been brought in to help in several states. Not only is the fire dangerous, but the smoke is, too. A high-pressure system over the Northwest has kept the smoky air essentially trapped in the region.

The fire and smoke are making life miserable for residents, sometimes even dangerous. Nancy Wartik of The New York Times curated responses from readers who were asked on Facebook how the fires were affecting them. Readers were upset their kids can't play safely outside, angry at news media for largely ignoring the fires, concerned about climate change, appreciative of the responders who are fighting the fires, and worried about their health. Reader Amber Conger of Helena, Mont., told the Times: "There is no escape. The entire state is burning. The sun glows red. The air is polluted with thick smoke and ash falls like snowflakes from the sky."

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