By Emily Woodbury
So far this year, 39,000 wildfires have burned 5,899,245 acres in the United States. With hundreds of campground closures, hiking trail closures and smoky-window views, people are asking, “What are the causes of all these fires and when will they stop?”
Record dry conditions (“rainy” Seattle just broke its all-time record for days without rain), continuous hot temperatures and lightning storms are causes for the many fires. Unless areas start to see some rain or temperatures severely drop, fires will keep blazing.
Seventeen fires are currently burning in Oregon and Washington while another 12 burn thousands of acres in Idaho. Twenty-three fires are burning in Montana. Washington has had 699 wildfires so far this year and 89 percent of those were caused by humans, up from the normal 50 percent. While Washington residents have suffered this past week from inhalation of smoke from British Columbia fires, officials say this smoke has actually helped stop the spread of Washington’s own wildfires by keeping temperatures lower than they would be without that smoke. However, while the lower daytime temperatures are good, the air quality is still deemed unhealthy.
Large fires (“large” classifies any wildfire larger than 100 acres of timberlands or 300 acres of rangelands) in Washington include the Noisy Creek Fire, which has burned 3,120 acres in the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington. The 9,905-acre fire, which began July 23, is burning the thick wilderness just northwest of Winthrop. The North Forks Hughes Fire in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness Area near the Idaho border has burned 1,150 acres and is so far uncontrollable. Officials say they are working on a plan to control it but for now conditions are too dangerous.
IN OREGON the 52,223-acre Cinder Butte Fire in Harney County is said to be fully contained. The cause of the huge fire is still under investigation. The Blanket Creek Fire, burning 4,739 acres near Prospect in eastern Oregon, has not been contained and officials estimate that they will need the remainder of August to control it. The Chetco Bar Fire in southern Oregon has grown 4,821 acres in two days and is zero percent contained.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock has declared a state of fire emergency. The executive order means the state may have to use money out of its general fund ($30 million has been set aside for instances like this). Between $5 million and $10 million has already been spent on fighting the fires this year. Many towns are being forced to evacuate as fires near. Find a list of Montana area evacuations here.
Those who have camping, hiking, or road trips planned for the rest of the summer should do research before heading out the door. A fire in Glacier National Park started from a Tuesday lightning storm has caused closures near ranger stations inside the park. Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta has closed some of its back country campgrounds despite the fact that there are no current fires burning. At Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, a level 1 evacuation notice (notifying visitors to be on alert) is in effect. The Spruce Lake Fire, started by lightning on July 24, has burned 5,000 acres and is only 5 percent contained. The park headquarters and Rim Village are the two areas mainly affected.
Here’s how you can help prevent a wildfire:
- Never leave a fire unattended. Completely extinguish any fires you may have with water, and make sure coals are cold before you leave it. Avoid burning anything in windy situations.
- Make sure that lanterns, stoves and heaters are cool before refueling. Keep all flammable liquids away from appliances.
- Do not discard cigarettes or matches from a moving vehicle. Be sure to fully extinguish before discarding (don’t litter).
- Follow local and state regulations when traveling. Many burn bans are currently in effect.
If you are caught in a wildfire
- Quickly look for a body of water, a lake or river, to jump into.
- If there is not a body of water nearby, find an area with little vegetation and cover yourself with wet clothing, a blanket or soil. Stay low and covered until you are able to go around the fire.
- To protect your lungs breathe into the ground — as close as you can get — through a moist (if possible) cloth to minimize inhaling smoke.
Click here to see a list of all current fires.