Before the 2021 fire season began in the western United States, experts knew it was going to be bad. Now people across the country are seeing “how bad” as the smoke from the fires has spread to the east coast. Common wisdom says that where there is smoke there is fire. In this case, however, these giant forest fires are thousands of kilometers away.
Fires were expected in many western states due to historically poor drought conditions and record temperatures. There are 78 active large forest fires in 13 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. In total, more than 1.3 million hectares were burned. The authorities forecast above-average fire potential for large parts of the west by September.
The bootleg fire
Right now the biggest fire is the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon. The fire was caused by a lightning strike and, at over 395,000 hectares, is the fourth largest in Oregon history. In terms of size, it is an area larger than Los Angeles. Firefighters had to retreat to safety zones for 11 consecutive days because of the rapidly shifting fire.Uncredited / AP / Shutterstock / Shutterstock
The Bootleg Fire is big enough to create its own weather. Pyrocumulus clouds, also called clouds of fire, form when the heat from forest fires rises quickly and moisture condenses. These clouds can then create lightning and high winds, which is not helpful to the crews fighting the fires. In late June, pyrocumulus clouds formed by forest fires in British Columbia, Canada caused more than 700,000 lightning strikes in 24 hours and sparked new fires across the province.
In 2020, smoke from forest fires formed a wall along the entire west coast, creating hazy days and an apocalyptic-looking red sky. For a period last September, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland had some of the worst air quality readings in the world. This year, smoke is migrating east in the United States, particularly the Midwest and Northeast. Today the Statue of Liberty was shrouded in smoke and New York City reports one of the worst air quality in 15 years. Julie Jacobson / AP / Shutterstock / Shutterstock
Although 30 percent of the bootleg fire is included, it will not be extinguished in the foreseeable future. Katy O’Hara, a fire management specialist for the National Park Service, told CNN that due to the size of the fire, the only thing that could put it out is the weather.
“The size and extent of the bootleg fire requires an end-of-season weather event such as
Fire protection for future fire seasons
Interestingly, a section of forest that burned during the bootleg fire can help provide answers for upcoming fire seasons. For a decade, ecologists have fireproofed the 30,000-acre Sycan Marsh Preserve. That meant removing young trees and carrying out planned burns. When the fire reached the reserve, the firefighters said the fire was moving on the ground instead of jumping from tree to tree. This enabled them to better control it and protect parts of the forest. For a region that is increasingly affected by climate change, this type of forest management could be trend-setting.
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