Why the West is Burning

And What We Can Do

Chiloquin Fire in Oregon, Credit Oregon Dept. of Transportation

(By Laura Keir, Communications Coordinator)

With much of the West coast still burning, everyone at NCAP extends our heartfelt sympathy to the families, farms, businesses and communities that have been affected by the recent wildfires. These wildfires have caused monumental pain and devastation, and we wish a speedy recovery for those impacted. Our greatest appreciation goes out to the firefighters, first responders and volunteers who have been working courageously to battle the fires, save people and property and support those in need.

We know this year’s wildfires are record-setting, in part due to the climate crisis.

Of the ten biggest fires in California’s history, eight occurred in the past decade.1 In Oregon, strong easterly winds contributed to a record number of acres burning, structures lost, people needing to evacuate and lives lost.2 Unusual winds also occurred in Washington, burning 330,000 acres in just 24 hours.3

Scientists recognize that while climate change did not directly start these fires, it is increasing their frequency, duration and intensity as well as the likelihood of catastrophic effects. With a warming planet and recent heat waves, hot and dry air takes moisture away from plants, soil and other parts of the environment- making things extra flammable. Springtime often comes earlier than in the past, which means snows melt earlier and these waters dry up more quickly in the summer. Come autumn, warmer temperatures and a delay in the onset of winter rains causes the fire season to last longer than before.4

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is an important part of the solution.

We must also recognize that in pre-European settled America, Indigenous burning in land management cleared the land for travel and hunting, reduced the amount of pests and invasive species, and provided increased vegetation for fauna.5 It also reduced the amount of available brush fuel when fire season hit. Western science has just recently started to give credit to traditional ecological knowledge in management practices and acknowledge the many benefits of using fire.

There are steps we can take every day to help with the climate crisis.

Eating organic and locally grown foods, using alternative forms of transportation that burn fewer fossil fuels, and producing less trash waste are just a few actions that will help. Right now, there are many ways to support those who have been devastated by this year’s wildfires. Local community groups are taking donations of clothing, household goods, furniture, etc. to help individuals and families who have lost their homes. This is a great time to clean your house and closet to share surplus items. It is also an excellent time to volunteer through a formal organization or just by connecting with others in your neighborhood. Many folks, especially seniors or those with disabilities, need help with yard work and home repairs.

Here are a few wildfire relief funds that need support:
  • The MRG (McKenzie River Gathering) Foundation’s Rogue Valley Relief Fund directly helps people most impacted by the fires in the Rogue Valley of Oregon. Funds are used to buy tents, meals, gas, and other supplies, and in the long term it will support those who have lost their homes as they rebuild. Donate here.
  • The United Way’s Whitman County Fire Community Relief Fund will be managed and disbursed to those in Washington impacted and displaced, with zero administrative fees. Just in Malden alone, 80 percent of the homes and structures have been destroyed. Donate today.
  • The Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) recognizes that some farmers are more likely to fall between the cracks of traditional safety nets. That’s why their California Family Farmer Emergency Fund gives farmers of color, immigrant farmers, and undocumented farmers special consideration when applying for support. Donate to the fund, and apply if you’re a California farmer.
  • The American Red Cross Northwest Region has been on the ground to make sure people have a safe place to stay and comfort during this time of uncertainty. Donate to the Red Cross to support those who have been displaced.

  1. Krishnakumar P, Kannan S. The worst fire season ever. Again. [Internet]. The Los Angeles Times; 2020 Sept 15 [cited 2020 Sept 24]. Available from: https://www.latimes.com/projects/california-fires-damage-climate-change-analysis/
  2. Sickinger T. Oregon's historic wildfires: unusual but not unprecedented [Internet]. The Oregonian/OregonLive; 2020 Sept 12 [updated 2020 Sept 15; cited 2020 Sept 24]. Available from: https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2020/09/oregons-historic-wildfires-the-unprecedented-was-predictable.html
  3. Osaka S. How apocalyptic this fire season is - in 1 flaming chart [Internet]. Grist Magazine; 2020 Sept 10 [cited 2020 Sept 24]. Available from: https://grist.org/climate/how-apocalyptic-this-california-western-fire-season-is-in-1-flaming-chart/
  4. Borunda A. The science connecting wildfires to climate change [Internet]. National Geographic; 2020 Sept 17 [cited 2020 Sept 24]. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/09/climate-change-increases-risk-fires-western-us/
  5. Kimmerer RW, Lake FK. The role of Indigenous burning in land management. Journal of Forestry [Internet]. 2001 Nov [cited 2020 Sept 24];99(11):36–41. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1093/jof/99.11.36

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  • Laura Ray
    published this page in BLOG 2020-09-28 10:46:20 -0700