The fires burn far away. Their smoke riding strong, southwesterly winds up the Snake River Plain find a gathering place here in the valley. At sunrise and sunset and every minute in between, microscopic particles that once were lodgepole pines and sage and prairie grass now float as ashes and dust, their sweet scents now the unhealthy vapor of scorched earth.
The West is Burning. The headlines tell us so every summer—state records of charred acreage, evacuations, death, and insurance claims. Fire season is two and a half months longer than it was in 1970. Back then, the typical wildfire burned six days. Now, they last more than fifty. The Ranch fire, California’s worst ever, has been ablaze for thirty days torching nearly four hundred thousand acres, twice the size of New York City. It still burns.
The West is hotter and drier. The last several years of drought have killed over one hundred million trees in California alone. Brushwood grows in their place, unshaded and unprotected against dry heat and wind—every acre the equivalent of three hundred gallons of gasoline. Accidents, negligence, or a single lightning strike, all it takes is a spark. It’s hard to make things better, so very easy to make them worse.
But, the winds have started to change. Containment grows as fuel is spent. A cold front dips down from the Pacific bringing rain and clean air and the hope that this year’s fire season is almost over. Prayers being answered as more are sent up for firefighters, for a wet winter, and for our leadership to embrace the need to change our ways before it’s too late.