As I write this, the mountains are hazy and there’s a distinct campfire scent in the air. And it’s not the neighbors roasting marshmallows at noon — it’s the signal of something far more dangerous and with long-ranging consequences. It’s the drift smoke from 52 wildfires burning in the western United States.
The Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires didn’t happen that long ago — we all remember the flames destroying homes and lives. Our neighbors in other parts of Colorado, in Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Montana are facing those same challenges now.
According to USA Today, the 52 large fires are burning more than 748,000 acres of land. But there are 33,000 other fires scorching more than 1.9 million acres as of July 12. It’s the largest number of fires in a decade.
The conflagrations across the West highlight two problems that local, state and national leaders must grapple with: long-term drought and overbuilding in the wildland-urban interface. Forests are supposed to burn; it’s a kind of renewal for the ecosystem. And people living along WUI areas are at higher risk of wildfires.
And the smoke that comes from these fires contains particulates that can be dangerous for the elderly, those struggling with asthma or those with other lung issues.
Water is always an issue in the arid West but combine the drought with thousands more people relocating here and encroaching on natural habitat, and you have a recipe wildfires to burn down millions of acres, take lives and destroy memories.
It’s time to put our natural resources first. It’s time to consider what kind of state, region — planet — we are leaving to our children and grandchildren. There must be more than unchecked, unplanned growth and development. If there isn’t, the lovely mountains in our own backyard will resemble so much scorched earth — all in the name of “progress.”
— Staff notes originally run in our daily email newsletter, Indy Now, along with news updates, photos of the day, a weekly poll and more. Sign up below.