It could be the new four-number word. After this year, may we never speak of it again. Forest fires are clearly the latest addition to the catastrophes that affect Pacific Northwest, the USA, and the whole planet. If you are like me, you’ve been stuck in your home reading and watching the news to see how the fires have altered the lives, homes, wildlife, and trails of our nearby forests and wondering what you can do to help our community.
What can I do today?
Local Volunteer Fire Departments rely strictly on donations. These wildfires have wiped out funds and need more to continue what could be a long bout of protecting their homes and forests. Here are a few volunteer organizations to choose from:
The Red Cross sets up emergency stations for evacuees and volunteer firefighters. The Red Cross already has received overwhelming support in food and goods, so they are now asking for cash donations as it may be weeks before anyone can go home for those shaken by the fires.
The Wildland Firefighter Association provides financial support to families of those who died or were injured in the line of duty while fighting wildland fires.
The Oregon Human Society is sheltering pets and animals displaced by wildfires.
In an effort to give back, Run Hub Northwest is doing a shoe and sock fundraiser for fire victims. If you or someone you know has lost your home or been displaced by the Holiday Farm Fire, you can request a pair of shoes here. If you’d like to donate to help provide shoes and socks for fire victims, please click here. In addition to your donations, Run Hub and some of their shoe brands will also be donating shoes and socks.
What can I do when the fires die down?
Donate to or volunteer with a trail work team. A couple of years ago, the Eagle Creek fire devastated most of the trails in the Columbia Gorge. Watch this video from Green Oregon to see how the forest and trails have recovered with trail work volunteers, the forest service, and state park rangers. The 2020 wildfires have burned almost 20 times the acreage of the Eagle Creek Fire. Many trails we run on are needed to be rebuilt. Here is a sample of trail-building organizations to work with:
What can I do to prevent this again?
Unfortunately, wildfires seem to be getting worse every year, but wildfires have actually been relatively contained until our generation. Why is that?
- Climate change- It’s obvious the planet has been getting warmer and drier due to human activity. I can not stress this point anymore – the alarm has been ringing for quite some time now. The West Coast wildfires are a harbinger of how serious they can get in the near future. How do we live in an enclosed system, where everything is interconnected? The great thing about science is that it is right, regardless if you believe it or not – according to the Washington Post “Warming temperatures made these fires worse by drying out vegetation during a record-shattering heatwave, the second since mid-August. These blazes exploded in size during an outbreak of strong winds that simultaneously hit the Cascades, Sierras, and coastal mountain ranges; the gusts pushing the flames down canyons, through campgrounds, past highways, and into neighborhoods.” Today, there is no room for climate change deniers, period. This is a matter of life and death, literally. We have to change our everyday lives, and more importantly, change local, national, and global policies to halt climate change.
- Forest management- According to the Evolution of Wilderness Fire Policy by Gregory H. Aplet, In 1935, the US Forest Management decided that fire suppression was the best method of fighting wildfires. In the 1960s, researchers realized that this method was good for small fires but created a tinder box for massive fires that were nearly impossible to contain. Policies started and continue to change for controlled burns.
- Human population growth and expansion- People have started to move closer to and are also more active in the forests creating a wildland urban interface (WUI). The WUI grew rapidly from 1990 to 2010, with increases of 41% in homes and 33% in land, making it the fastest growing land use type in the lower 48 states. Having homes closer to the WUI make prescribed burns much more difficult to manage the forest. It doesn’t help that most Oregon forest fires are started by human activity according to State Fire Marshall.
Research on your own from evidence-based sources. Be cautious of opinion pieces that do not have valid references and even then, review the literature cited. For those looking at social media, it is easy to see that people are pointing their fingers at specific groups and parties for a simple cause (and solution.) Block it out and spend a few hours forming your own opinion based on those investigations. A great start is Wildfire, a podcast from REI about wildfire management with a focus on the Columbia Gorge. EcoWatch created a guide that highlights the causes, effects, and solutions to wildfires with Wildfires 101: Everything You Need to Know.
Vote! Not just this November, but every election, both local and national. Demand from your politicians for change in programs on climate change and forest management.
Get involved with a climate change organization. Protect Our Winters is just one organization of outdoor athletes working to change attitudes and changing policies.
If we don’t do anything to create change, 2020 will not be an anomaly, it will be just another year. Every year. COVID-19 , Black Lives Matter, and the West Coast forest fires are a clear wake-up call to drastically change how the global society operates regarding public health, social aspects, consumption, supply and demand, and the environment. We will have to change and adapt or perish.
(Gleb Velikanov, Edwin Reidel, and Liz Fero contributed to this post)