Wildfires Have Gone From Bad To Worse And More Are Inevitable
When Brett Myers drove into the town of Maldon Washington a couple of days ago there were more. On, fire than not smoke to where you can't see in front of you fire encroaching right on the road houses that when you drove by. The inside your vehicle heat up thirty fifty degrees just instantly the the intensity that fire was pretty close to a war zone. Maldon a small town in the eastern part of the state. Myers is the county sheriff there and on Labor Day. The ground was dry winds close to fifty miles an hour. They still don't know how exactly the fire started or where it came from but in a matter of hours, Myer says about eighty percent of the town was gone. From the time that got to the city limits to the time it was through the town was maybe two and a half hours. And then the fire burned breast tonight. But most of the homes caught on fire caught and fire within two to three hours very most. Meanwhile in Oregon, we have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state Governor Brown said fires there were also fueled by strong winds by Thursday evening state officials estimated five hundred thousand people had been forced to evacuate their homes ten percent of the population. Fires there have already burned nearly double the acreage of an average year. This will not be a one time event. Unfortunately it is the bellwether of the future. We are feeling the acute impacts of climate. Change. Consider. This. The situation in the West has gone from bad to worse. There are still months left to go wildfire season and more fire is inevitable. From NPR, I'm audie Cornish it's Friday September eleventh. Support for this NPR podcast and the following message come from better help online counseling by licensed professional counselors specializing in isolation depression stress and anxiety visit better help dot com slash consider to learn more and get ten percent off your first month. Support for NPR and the following message come from USA fax tracking the spread and impact of Covid nineteen with interactive case maps and charts, economic stats and more see the data at USA facts. Dot Org. I'm Lisa Hagen. I'm Chris Axel. We're the hosts of no compromise NPR's new podcast exploring one families mission to reconstruct America using too powerful tools, guns and facebook new episodes. Drop every Tuesday join us for the no compromise podcast from NPR. It's considered this from NPR. The scale of the fires in the West is hard to wrap your head around three million acres have burned in. California before this week the record in the season was one point seven million and that was just two years ago. There were smoke-filled skies in Los Angeles clouds in San Francisco cast a red glow on the city. California Oregon Washington. We're all in the same. Of Cataclysmic. Fire. The reason we are in the same soup is because the grass is so dry the to Washington governor, Jay Inslee said Wednesday dry conditions, high temperatures and strong winds had combined to decimate entire towns across Washington state. Will tell you that. Having seen these fires unfortunately too frequently. The psychological loss of losing your home. Is a deep deep wound. Is. Not, just economic Chris Lavoie knows that feeling he told NPR that he was one of the hundreds of thousands of people evacuated in Oregon this week we jumped in the van we started driving and you could see up on the hill across the river from us a complete inferno. Giant. Red Orange Balls of flames just the whole thing was engulfed. Bala Flames Loboi owned a small mountain resort in the town, of blue, river east of Eugene. It doesn't exist anymore block neither does his home and he learned that from video he came across on facebook someone had recorded a drive through town. You can see our historic ranger cabin. And there's stone fireplace that's all it's left and then you roll up so that they lodge and the buildings is completely gone. So you know you vacillate I vacillate between you know. Wanting to cry holding back, tears crying in, just trying to be optimistic or making a joke just to try and distract myself. Yeah. With at least eighty, five major fires burning out of control the country's firefighting resources are maxed out. Now, federal fire officials are calling in the US military in even looking internationally for help. Some of that effort is being coordinated in Boise Idaho where NPR's Kirk. Siegler has been following things he spoke to my colleague. Elsa Chang. So we understand that you are at this point basically in the center of the Federal and State wildland firefighting response, you could say that has I'm actually standing outside the National Interagency Fire Center here in Boise looking at couple of airtankers out on the tarmac here, and they've been basically preparing for the worst here for weeks. Now, they've been at a prepared this level five that means that all resources are deployed to wildfires. So if for win I, think at this point, they get another big one we're going to have to start pulling cruise off other fires. You know it's hard to decide. How to do that also, when you're one hundred percent maxed out with a twenty, five thousand firefighters out on the ground already in California, Oregon and elsewhere what are fire manage? They're telling you because at this point, there is no sign of rain or snow in the forecast anytime soon. So what's the contingency plan? Well, they're mobilizing the military, which is not unheard of it's something. They don't do every year though only bad years like this and things are really bad. The National Guard in several states is also sending cruise to the West here they've got an order out for a half battalion? Bring in ten more hand crews from the US military, and they're also looking to bring in more hotshot crews and crews from Mexico and Canada at this point to wow how much do you think all of that additional assistance is going to help the situation here I mean it's not GonNa hurt. But honestly, you're not gonNA put these mega fires out. You've got forests dried out from climate change their stress they've been overgrown due. To a legacy, the fact that we've been suppressing fires and they're just more people living in them here at the fire. Center. Dan. Smith put it to me pretty bluntly they need all the help they can get but these are urban wildfires in their burning a whole towns and cities and people are dying a main priority has to be search and rescue evacuations of people that get them out of harm's way, and that's A. Very. Tough situation to be in also it's extraordinary. The priority right now is search and rescue not even of wildfire suppression we're trying to protect homes well, isn't all of this kind of a worst case scenario right now because we have this really bad fire season, and now we're in the middle of a pandemic how much of the pandemic is hampering efforts right now? Well, yeah, this is exactly what everyone in the wildland fire community hoped wasn't going to happen having twenty-five thousand firefighters deployed now in the middle of a pandemic officials here at the center told. Me That the Canadians in particular were hesitant to initially send help due to the fact that the coronavirus is still. So out of control down here, but and state governments have put a lot of safety protocols in place on how to sit up fire camps and do response that are being tested right now, the Canadians I'm told are sending crews and we're going to be continuing to lean on other countries in particular in the southern hemisphere were it's winter because there's really no sign that this fire season is going to slow down anytime soon. NPR's Kirk Siegler and Boise Idaho. As Kirk just mentioned wildfires are getting worse in part because for decades, the US has overplayed its hand when it comes to fire suppression that's putting out fires where another time they would've been allowed to burn and clear out overgrown vegetation but there's an effort underway in California to do things differently by working with some native American tribes who have been fighting fire with fire for a long time. Here's NPR's Laura in summer. Back in February when large groups of people could still get together about fifty people gathered in a clearing in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Out here is. Restoring life. Ron Good is tribal chairman of the North Fork. Mono, he's brought together several California tribes to do something they've largely been stopped from doing for a century or more cultural burning. We don't put fire on the ground in not know how it's GonNa. Turn out. That's what makes it cultural burning. Because we call to eight also listening are officials from the state and federal government the entities that historically banned travel burning today. They're here to start taking steps to work together but I the day started with a blessing. Bill Leonard is tribal chairman of the southern Sierra me. Walk. You get to work. The group heads out into the oak woodland towards some bushes with long bare branches saw berries three leave CMEC. Goodwin right there before they begin burning, he start harvesting. My mom is a basket lever. Tiaras is cutting the straightest branches. All of our basket material needs to be tend to in some way. So they need to be burned, and then next year we'll probably have sticks that are six seven feet tall and when you're. Fired Oh. The dry branches light up quickly, but the roots remain intact after spring rains the point where we sprout. I learned from my mother. But my mother got in trouble when you burn because the fire department, you know didn't want her doing what we're going today. Good historically, California's tribes burned thousands of acres every year until western settlers arrived they came with their concepts of being afraid of fire. They didn't understand fire in the sense of the tool. That, it could be. To create and what it did to help, generate and rejuvenate the land. So they. Brought in suppression the Forest Service famously had the ten am rule to put out all forest fires by ten am the next day force quickly became overgrown and native tribes las the land they once burned says Beth rose Middleton Manning Professor of native American Studies at UC. Davis there was a a bounty on California. Indian people the governor had announced a war of extermination. So You have all the history and it really fostered removal. Now, tribes across California are trying to restore cultural burning by working on public lands guy I, think it's really important that we don't think traditional burning as what information can we learn from native people and then exclude people and move on with non natives managing the land but the native people are at the forefront and are leading. You get it up bright related. The crew moves on to burn a dense field a few acres across Jennifer Montgomery lights the dry grass with a drip torch basically a lighter on steroids that was super empowering. I. Mean I think every woman should get a chance to use a drip torch. Montgomery works for California's fire agency. The State is trying to reduce overgrown fuels on hundreds of thousands of acres, but it has a Long Way to go. She says, California's tribes should be part of that. It's an opportunity for me to really see how effective cultural fire can be in addressing the issues we have around uncontrolled wildfire that the work that we did today. If a fire comes through there, it will drop down to the ground. I'm frankly it may given the right circumstances just stop the fire entirely on its own. For Good. The day is about forming these partnerships, but it's also about the kids running alongside their parents. No better teaching that he looks out at the blackened field which in a few weeks will sprout again excited I'm elated because I'm looking around. It what we've done how beautiful the land is is looking at it is. It is. That report from NPR's Lauren summer, more of her reporting on cultural burning in California in our episode notes, it's considered this from NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.