Haunting images of the Blue Creek Wildfire in Washington
Wildfires are scouring America with unprecedented range and frequency, menacing homes and threatening lives this summer.
Some of the largest burns are in Alaska, where fire has eaten through an area that’s larger than the state of Connecticut. But California has also suffered 1,000 more fires this year than at the same point in the past five years, according to state data. And even the moss-covered forests of Washington state have been lit by multiple large infernos.
One fire took a savage swipe through a lush section of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Another inferno blew through a 10 mile stretch in the southeastern part of the state, near Walla Walla – where photographer Ian Bates captured these images on July 25 and 26.
They’re remarkable shots for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because they may preview a future of still larger, more wide-ranging fires across the United States.
Modern fire seasons already include seven times as many fires that are over 10,000 acres, as compared the average year in the 1970s, according to a think tank called Climate Central. The planet has been enveloped by hotter, drier “fire weather,” according to another recent study, co-authored by a scientist from the U.S. Forest Service.
That has extended the burn season almost 20% worldwide since 1979. In the U.S., meanwhile, the number of fires could double again by 2050, the data show.
With the proposed Wildfire Management Act of 2015, Washington state Sen. Maria Cantwell hopes to re-make our approach to fighting these fires. She wants to discourage more mindless construction of new communities in known fire zones, capped by flammable roofs and absent even a basic evacuation plan. She also wants a lot more money for clearing the kind of brush that charging wildfires gulp down like Gatorade.
“This bill,” Cantwell wrote in a white paper last month, “rests on a recognition of the fact that not all fires can be fought, not all structures can be protected, and no lives should be risked only to defend” homes or property.
The senator expects to introduce her legislation later this summer. It’s an effort that could help revolutionize the way we deal with wildfire. But for the millions of people affected by wildfires in 2015, change will almost certainly come too late.