‘THE LUNGS OF OUR REGION ARE ON FIRE:’ WILDFIRES EXACT A PUNISHING TOLL ON THE WEST...

A wildfire burned in the Lolo National Forest near Salmon Lake in Montana in August. Credit Rion Sanders/The Great Falls Tribune, via Associated Press

 

For much of this week and last, devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean has grabbed front-page headlines. But wildfires in the West have been wreaking destruction of their own, though it has attracted less attention. Vast swaths of land have burned, choking the air with ash and smoke...

Today, we asked our readers on Facebook to tell us how the fires are affecting their lives and communities. From California to Vancouver, British Columbia, from Oregon to Montana, response was swift and sometimes heartbreaking. These are a selection of responses:

Kids haven’t been able to go outside

Amber McClure Jensen, Kalispell, Mont.: “We have just lost one of our historic backcountry lodges in Glacier Park. Our poor air quality has made most schools restrict student athletics. We have over one million acres burned, firefighters’ lives have been lost, many homes have been lost and there is no foreseeable end in sight. We are struggling to fund the fight against these fires because of the magnitude of them this year.”

Jennifer Bevers: “Southern Oregon University is issuing breathing masks to their employees. I’m wondering if I should get one for my daughter before she returns for the fall semester. In Salem, Ore., we can’t see the moon at night because the smoke is so thick.”

Marshall Peterson, Spokane, Wash.: “It’s insane. The lungs of our region are on fire. You can’t go outside. What would normally be an outstanding view of our remarkably gorgeous Spokane River is just a huge cloud of smoke. We’ve been essentially trapped inside for a week. By far the worst ‘fire season’ ever. By far!”

Yaunna Sommersby, Vancouver, British Columbia: “We are having a record-breaking wildfire season across the province. We have had a variety of air-quality advisories as smog is blanketing cities in the interior and within the lower mainland. Smog is coming from all over the province and Washington and Oregon State. British Columbia has not had a wildfire season this bad since 1958…”

Fears of climate change

Sara Boilen, Whitefish, Mont.: “The postman is wearing a respirator. The children are inside for recess. The sun is pink and the moon, orange. We have a list on our fridge titled ‘In case of evacuation.’ And I, for one, am cursing my neighbors in Trump Country for electing a man who can still, somehow, deny the existence of the very human-caused phenomenon exacerbating this naturally occurring cycle.”

Kelly Morice Banister, Portland, Ore.: “We are watching our beloved Columbia River Gorge be torched by the carelessness of some teenagers with fireworks. We are heartbroken, outraged…. And above all at this time, I am infuriated by anyone denying climate change, as we are living in a tinder box becoming an inferno and the South is flooded and shredded by hurricanes.”

A loss for the entire country

Mike Maas, Helena, Mont.: “I wish the rest of the nation would realize that most of the acreage in Montana that has burned belongs to them; our fires are primarily on National Forest lands and the loss of Sperry Chalet in Glacier is truly devastating.”

Hana Jacover, Ore.: “We’re upset that mainstream media hasn’t touched this story until now. We’re upset that mainstream media won’t address these (applicable) natural disasters in relation to climate change. Our states are burning up, our beautiful backyard ‘playgrounds’ are disappearing. Our firefighters are exhausted. Our wildlife is displaced and stressed. Our air quality is actually hazardous in many areas.”

“Ash falls like snowflakes from the sky”

Amber Conger, Helena, Mont.: “There is no escape. The entire state is burning. The sun glows red. The air is polluted with thick smoke and ash falls like snowflakes from the sky. Lives have been lost by brave firefighters and livelihoods are under threat. But, the encouraging thing to see is Montanans coming together to help each other, because that’s the Montana way.”

Teresa Dofredo, Washington State: “Ash raining down on cars like a light snow, days looking dark and gloomy when in reality it is a bright sunny day. Can look directly at the sun because it is just a red orb in the sky. Never since moving to Washington State in 1983 have I seen the air quality like it has been this summer and yet we have had no rain for months.”

Terry Porta Klieber, Portland, Ore.: “The beauty of the Columbia River Gorge is something that must be seen to be appreciated. Multnomah Falls will take your breath away. Our brave firefighters are doing their best. We here in Oregon are heartbroken. Portland has been covered in a smoky haze, ash is falling from the sky, and your eyes burn just going outside. Or maybe those tears are for the utter destruction of such beauty.”

Kim Chambon Jones: “The smoke is so bad here in Sandpoint, Idaho. Even though we don’t have fires, we are being suffocated by smoke because we are surrounded by them.”

“Firefighters are heroes”

Gail Nigh Lee, Glencoe, Calif.: “Two years ago, Sept. 9, 2015, the Butte fire took out most of Calaveras County, 72,000 acres. We are still in recovery. Areas burned so hot and deeply that nothing will grow there for a long, long time. And today fires rage around the area once again bringing smoke and fear. Yosemite burns and the smoke drifts. Daily people post... is there a new fire nearby? And have to be reassured that all this smoke is drift smoke from all the other fires. My heart goes out to every single victim. The firefighters are heroes.

“The recovery is a long process, filled with tears, frustration and disbelief.”

Animals are suffering, as well

Angela Lowman, Beaverton, Ore.: “I have a pet-sitting business and have to restrict the dogs’ access to outside to minimize their inhalation of the falling ash particles. I’ve been wearing a mask because I have to be outside so much. Another pet sitter lost business when a client of hers had to cancel a vacation to go work on the fires. Over 500 livestock animals near the Gorge had to be evacuated. The interstate and railroads near the fire are closed so that’s slowing down transportation and businesses.”

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