by Skye Kelty
I grew up in Southern California. Every year the dry Santa Ana winds blow at up to 85 mph through the dry hills in our Mediterranean climate leaving the brush dry and easily ignitable. This fire season lasts from June to October. In combination with drought and hot weather, 770 mi2 of my state was on fire in a 3 weeks period during October of 2007. One of my childhood friends was among the 1,500 families that lost their homes and the 900,000 people that were displaced. These fires caused the largest evacuation in California’s history. 9 people were killed. 85 people were injured, including 61 firefighters. A state of emergency was declared by our Governator and President George W. Bush. 6,000 firefighters were joined by the United States Armed Forces, National Guard, and Mexican firefighters worked long days in extremely hazardous conditions to get the fire under control and save as many homes as they could.
I was playing in a soccer tournament in my hometown of Torrance during the weekend of the worst fires. We had an 8 AM game and when we got into the car to get to the fields, the vehicle was completely covered in ash. This is the closest thing to snow I have seen during my 20 years living in Torrance. Half of the girls on my team had asthma and could not make it through warm-ups. We were annihilated on the field and lost by 6 goals to a team that we usually would have beat. My best friend was on offense had a major asthma attack during the first quarter. I could do nothing to make her feel better as she wheezed and eventually gasped for air. After our game, the tournament was canceled and postponed until the fires ended.
Every year weeks occur when my friends with asthma cannot go outside because of the ash and terrible air quality that accompanies the fires. My cross country team would run 10 miles in the gym around the basketball practice (pretty boring). My sister has severe asthma and I cannot explain how terrifying it was to get a call from her running coach that she had passed out at a race because she could not breathe. Frequent fires cause major problems for everyone in the area, from the firefighters killed on the front lines to the 10 year old kids having severe asthma attacks downwind. People lose everything they own. Ecosystems can be severely damaged beyond their fire tolerance levels. Fires are very scary.
We biked through Bastrop on our way to Austin through a blackened forest. Loggers have been busy removing the dead trees, and some of the survivors, to create pulp for paper, mulch, and other products. Last summer, during the worst drought Texas has experienced, Texas was on fire. That summer was the worst fire season in Texas history with 3.5 million acres burned and 3,000 homes destroyed. All over Texas fires raged, threatening Houston and Fort Worth along with many rural communities. Texas, like Southern California, needs fires to keep the forests and prairies healthy and have historically faced many dry spells. The kinds of fires that cause communities to enter a state of emergency are not so normal for these areas and are becoming more frequent as the temperature rises and the humidity drops. People will lose their homes more often and get sick from the terrible air that follows the burn. Fire departments will be strapped and resources will be exhausted. Climate change is leading to extreme weather that is less predictable. Fire is part of that problem. Fire is a major part of that problem.
http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/US/09/05/texas.fires/story.bastrop.fire.raci.jpg Information about the wildfires of 2009 in TX.
This summer fires are already pillaging American cities.
Map of fires going on today:
first hand experiences video: