When the weather gets warmer and the land dries out under the unforgiving heat of the sun, fire season in many U.S. states goes into full swing. Or at least, that’s how it used to be. Last month, Los Angeles Magazine ran the headline, “California Is Entering an Era of Endless Wildfires.” That may sound like the tagline for a new movie starring Dwayne Johnson, but for people across the western United States, it’s a terrifying reality they’re actually facing, as fire season is getting longer, the fires are getting bigger, and their frequency is increasing.
This is only likely to get worse. Wildfires are a natural part of several climate systems, but we’re throwing the natural rhythm of burning and regrowth off, and quickly. The National Park Service says that 85 percent of wildfires are caused by humans. Humans who are not just living in fire risk zones but moving to them rapidly. The number of people living in fire risk areas in the western United States has jumped 1000 percent since the 1940s. From 1990 to 2010 — 25 million more people moved into these highly flammable areas — with 12.7 million more homes built. As humans flood into these areas, putting in power lines, roads, and structures that will burn readily, fires are getting larger and more damaging. Fifteen of the largest fires in California ever came in the last twenty years. Seven of the top ten since 2015, and six of those in the last 18 months. All those stats seem to indicate that the more humans around to start fires, the more intense the fires are getting.
Let’s say you aren’t one of those 25 million people who moved into a potential disaster zone. It can be easy to say, “well, that’s too bad, but it’s on them.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. The problem with wildfires becoming harder to control and the season being longer in length, affects everyone. From air quality to environmental concerns to financial burdens, these fires are something we should all be concerned about. Here’s why you should care about increasing wildfire risk, no matter where you live.