Monday, July 19, 2021

Many small-town Oregon residents, threatened with wildfire, remain skeptical about climate change

The Bootleg Fire is still going strong after burning 241,000 acres in southern Oregon, but many Klamath County residents refuse to acknowledge the role of climate change in the historic drought and heat waves this year. "Among the small towns that have been threatened by the Bootleg Fire — Sprague River, Beatty, Bly — there is little talk of global warming," Joshua Partlow reports for The Washington Post. "Instead, residents vent about the federal government’s water policies and forest management. They blame liberal environmentalists for hobbling the logging industry and Mexican marijuana farmers for sucking up the area’s water."

The Bootleg Fire burn area
(Washington Post map)
Jim Rahi, 71, told Partlow that the real problem is that Biden administration U.S. Forest Service officials are "a bunch of flower children" and said "It’s not that much hotter. It’s environmentally caused mismanagement." Even so, some acknowledge the fire is unusual. One Bly resident, a former Forest Service employee and fire chief, told Partlow the Bootleg fire is "the biggest one ever," and said that, though they have fires every year, they aren't "to this magnitude.

Many small-town residents refuse to evacuate, despite pleas from authorities to do so, because they worry about theft, transporting their animals, or that it might be hard to get back home. "We prayed a lot,” Matt Wolff of Sprague River told Partlow. "'Lord, just keep it away.' And so far it stayed that way."

"The fire that is now larger than New York City prompted a furious effort by firefighters to protect vulnerable communities to the south and east of the spreading flames," Partlow reports. "Nearly 2,000 firefighters and other personnel are battling the blaze that began July 6. As of Friday morning, just 7 percent of the fire had been contained. No deaths have been reported. Bulldozers have been digging trenches as firebreaks, particularly on the southern flank, to protect the more populated areas, and helicopters have been hauling in bags of water."

Climate change has made the West hotter and dryer, with more than 94% of the region in moderate to exceptional drought conditions. "The conditions for this summer blaze are what firefighters are more accustomed to facing at the end of a hot dry season, said Mark Enty, a spokesman for the Northwest Incident Management Team 10, which is battling the fire," Partlow reports. "Climate change driven by the human burning of fossil fuels has raised the Earth’s temperature an average of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, a warming that has led to more frequent and extreme natural disasters. Some 800 people died in the recent record-breaking heat waves in the Pacific Northwest and Canada."

The heat wave in Canada is so bad that crops are "baking in fields," Caroline Anders reports for the Post. "Cherries have roasted on trees. Fields of canola and wheat have withered brown. And as feed and safe water for animals grow scarce, ranchers may have no choice but to sell off their livestock."

Canadian farmers have been planning for climate change, but not much can be done if heat waves like the one in late June happen regularly, one expert told Anders. "It will totally upend Canadian food production if this becomes a regular thing," said Lenore Newman, director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. "We can’t farm like this, where there’s a giant disruption every year ... Or we’re going to have to really rethink how we produce food."

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