Why This Year's Wildfire Season Is Scarier Than Usual

Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP Photo.
Wildfires are raging over millions of acres of land in the western United States. A historic drought in California has contributed to terrifying fires there and has also, surprisingly, brought them to a part of the country that is famous for its drizzle: the lush, green rainforests of Washington state.

Fires are currently burning across some 1.225 million acres of land in seven states, from Washington to Arizona, and conditions aren't expected to change soon. Three firefighters died and four were hurt when flames they were battling in central Washington shifted with a sudden change in the wind.

With temperatures over 100 degrees and no rain, affected states are trying desperately to contain the fires that are already burning and to keep more from starting. People are needed to fight unpredictable blazes in places where they aren't used to taking precautions; this lack of preparedness increases risks for everyone.

As with most terrifying new weather problems, climate change and its effects are the forces behind these expanded danger zones. The U.S. Forest Service said in a recent report that, since 1970, climate change has added a whopping 78 days to what the Service considers "fire season," with twice as much land burning. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, rising temperatures are also causing snow to melt earlier, which leaves land susceptible to fire for more of the year. July 2015 was the hottest of any month since recordkeeping began in 1880, so there's no reason to think this trend will turn around without massive global effort.

With so much ground to protect, states have needed extra help from a variety of sources — the U.S. military sent 200 active-duty soldiers to help the 25,000 firefighters already working in the West, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has sent some of its employees to help, and thousands of California prison inmates have been dispatched to fight the blazes.

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