For what seems like the 10th time this summer, smoke fills our skies here in Utah. The nearby mountains grow hazy. We are coughing and our eyes turn red–so does the sky. The sunsets are ironically beautiful, obscuring the not-so-beautiful truth about why the West is on fire every summer.
Why? Out west, we are drier, we are hotter, and we are even hotter real estate for beetles that devour and kill our pine trees, rendering them fuel.
Of course, fires are part of many ecosystem cycles and are not inherently bad. It doesn’t help, however, that for years, the Forest Service vilified forest fires (looking at you, Smoky!), which generated landscapes chock-full of fuel in the form of dense forest and brush. It also doesn’t help that we now build en masse in these forests, and that people venture into them and set off fireworks or fail to extinguish their campfires.
As I sit in my log cabin backing a hill that gives way to the High Uintas, I am well aware of the fact that I am writing inside of a tinder box. If a fire dances down the brittle, dry hill behind me, our house stands little chance.
Should we move? To do so seems preemptive and crazy. The other problem with this question is the follow-up query of: Where? If we want to live in the mountains, then we are most likely in wildfire terrain. Deserts and coasts have their own fair share of climate change ills ahead. So, for now, we shut our windows, stay put, and pray for rain.