Wildfires Are Raging Across the Pacific Northwest: Here’s Why

It seems like most of the continental United States is a disaster zone at the point. The Gulf Coast and Carribean are inundated with hurricanes and the Pacific Northwest has been set ablaze by wildfires. No one was expecting to come off of Labor Day weekend greeted with thick smoke in the air and ash raining from the skies, but that’s exactly what residents of the Pacific Northwest got.

For many people outside of the Pacific Northwest (an area covering Montana to Washington, and Northern California to British Columbia), it’s hard to imagine the land of rain having such a serious wildfire problem. Many view the Pacific Northwest as a lush and wet temperate rainforest. In reality, the PNW has a vast array of climates.

In the region, you can find deserts next to farm-lands, beaches next to rainforests, and great plains next to mountains. The simple fact is that the region possesses virtually every environment you can imagine. Because of that, there are a lot of ways to ignite a wildfire in that region. There are many contributing factors, but they are linked to one big problem the Northwest has been dealing with for a long time. But first, we will go over the obvious factors.

Below average rainfall in the Northwest

A farmer mows alfalfa amid the smoke near Omak, Washington.

A farmer mows alfalfa amid the smoke near Omak, Washington. | Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

As we mentioned before, Seattle and the Northwest at large is known for its constant gray skies and a steady flow of precipitation. It has been suggested that the people residing there are soon to grow webbed feet. In the past few years, however, the summers have become dryer and dryer. Since the beginning of July 2017, the Seattle-Tacoma region has measured a dismal 0.o2 inches of rain. Those numbers are similar all over the region.

A dangerous amount of easily ignitable underbrush

The Skagit River is nearly dry below Diablo Lake which awaits water from the spring runoff

The Skagit River is nearly dry below Diablo Lake which awaits water from the spring run off | David McNew/Newsmakers

The most obvious cause of all these fires is the underbrush of any forest in the region and those expansive plains. With such little precipitation, all of the fallen branches, leaves, and trees are perfect fire fodder. If you were lost in the woods, making a fire would be the least of your concerns because they would be so easy to start. That said, recent wildfires have led to a blanket burn ban in most regions in the Pacific Northwest.

Lightning strikes

View of intercloud lightning at night, late Twentieth Century.

View of inter-cloud lightning at night, late Twentieth Century. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Burn bans do help prevent a lot of forest fires, but that won’t stop Mother Nature. A good portion of forest fires are started by lightning strikes, and this is especially the case as you go more inland. Many fires in the state of Montana can be attributed to a lightning strike. Add in the overly dry summer with below average rain fall, and above average heat, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where that’s going.

Over regulated logging practices?

July 1942: A caterpillar tractor dragging felled trees out of the Malheur National Forest, Grant County, Oregon.

July 1942: A caterpillar tractor dragging felled trees out of the Malheur National Forest, Grant County, Oregon. | Russell Lee/Keystone/Getty Images

Regulating logging practices is a pretty essential part of being able to maintain a diverse ecosystem and a steady workforce. It has been suggested that it may be too over-regulated by some. The thought is that if the loggers were able to log more, they’d thin out the forests out, and that would slow or diminish the intensity of these wildfires, thus, making them easy to fight.

Thinning out forests does help, but it’s not a profitable practice, as it doesn’t involve cutting down entire acres of trees. It literally involves going in and clearing out dying or dead trees as a component to it. The United States Forest Service is actually supposed to be handling this practice.

Forest service funding is wildly unbalanced

A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite dry grass during a controlled burn at Bouverie Preserve.

A firefighter uses a drip torch to ignite dry grass during a controlled burn at Bouverie Preserve. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Generally speaking, the U.S. Forest Service’s purpose is tTo sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” They maintain trails and roads, help regulate the logging industry, and monitor the general health of forests across the country.

In the past 20-30 years, they have become overly burdened financially by the forest fires that have been occurring. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service allotted just 16% of its budget to fight forest fires. In 2015, that number grew to over 50%. If left unchecked, the Forest Service is expecting its budget to soar to 67% allocated to fighting fires. A forest’s health is essential to help prevent or mitigate forest fires in the long run.

Irresponsible humans

 A fireworks stand, one of about 25 booths that are open for business, advertises on the first day of fireworks sales for Fourth of July celebrations

A fireworks stand, one of about 25 booths that are open for business, advertises on the first day of fireworks sales for Fourth of July celebrations. | David McNew/Getty Images

Humans at times can be, well, pretty stupid. A lot of the fires that have started in the Northwest were preventable, had people behaved more responsibly. When wildfires have already been an issue all year, why on Earth would someone go into the woods and either light a fire, or set off fire works? Well, that may be what one 15-year-old Vancouver, Oregon resident did, that allegedly started the latest fire in Oregon, the Eagle Creek Fire, which contributed to raining ash in Seattle almost 200 miles away.

Climate change

The gas-powered Valley Generating Station is seen in the San Fernando Valley

The gas-powered Valley Generating Station is seen in the San Fernando Valley | David McNew/Getty Images

Year after year, our storms are getting more intense, our summers are getting hotter, our droughts are getting worse, and the wildfires are getting worse. Of course, there are many contributing factors, and there are many ways to combat the problem, but we will just continue to head down this path if we don’t do something about it. Climate change is real, we are causing it, and we must clean up the mess we’ve made, if not for us, then for our children.