• By Shalom Baer

North Dakota firefighters assist Oregon

The West is burning. Wildfires have hit Oregon especially hard, burning 938,000 acres. According to KFYR-TV out of Williston, 17 firefighters from four North Dakota fire departments travelled to Oregon to fight the Slater fire. Those volunteers come from Williston, Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown held a press conference on Sept. 14. addressing the fires.

“Without question, our state has been pushed to its limits,” Brown said. “We are incredibly grateful that our calls for assistance are also being answered with crews from all over the country and Canada coming to help.”

Brown announced that she had asked the president to declare a state of emergency in Oregon as strong winds escalated the severity of the fires. He approved that emergency on Sept. 10.

“Our communities across Oregon are suffering right now. The smoke blanketing the state is a constant reminder that this has not come to an end,” Brown said.

The air quality in the state’s capital is listed as unhealthy for sensitive groups according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index. Other areas in the state are listed as unhealthy or hazardous. Brown pointed to climate change as the culprit corrupting the air.

“There’s absolutely no question that these fires raging across the West are a wakeup call that we have to address climate change,” Brown said. “I would make a callout for work at the local level, the state level, and the federal level to address climate change.”

While climate change contributes to the prevalence of wildfires, there are other factors.

According to an NPR article, the suppression of wildfires leads to more fires. Forests self-regulate by naturally burning to clear out fuel, but with populations on the West Coast rising, these natural processes can’t take place, leading to more fires overall.

A Montana-based research firm, Headwaters Economics, has a name for this phenomenon: wildfire paradox.

“The federal government’s commitment to minimize the threat of wildfires has resulted in the near eradication of wildfires from the landscape for decades. However, successful wildfire suppression has resulted in accumulated fuels that lead to larger and more severe wildfires in the long-term,” the firm’s website states. “Public expectations and policy goals must recognize and adapt to the inevitability of large wildfires.”

Whether this is simply a bad year for fires or an issue that isn’t going away soon, the West Coast, and the country as a whole, can feel the effects. Smoke from the West Coast fires reach across the country. While it’s not detectable by smell, and air quality remains good in the Midwest, the sun in North Dakota takes a reddish glow in the evenings.

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