Smoky Sunrise, Summer of 2012 in North Park, Colorado
With the west at Fire Preparedness Level 5, 65 major fires currently burning on 7.5 million acres, fought by 27,000 firefighters, 3 of whom perished in the last week, it seems like a good time to talk about who’s battling these annual catastrophic summer blazes. Everyone. The Federal government coordinates, and battles western fires alongside state, tribal, and local agencies. In these drier, hotter, more drought stricken times, fire is inextricably linked to water and climate change, particularly on vulnerable western lands covered with millions of acres of invasive, highly flammable cheatgrass. The image attached here was made on a memorable August morning, the day after several large fires blew up in Idaho, but I didn’t know it at the time. The smoke was so thick, acrid, and lung-choking that I thought there must be a major fire in the nearby Zirkel Range. But, as we’re seeing right now, smoke, particulates, and all the nasty haze float on the jet stream and will visit you wherever you live in the west. The states rights folks who “want to take the country back” don’t seem to understand that their state, any state doesn’t have the resources to fight these ever expanding annual fire events that last for weeks or months before first snows clear the air – termination dust used to mean the end of the season. I’m grateful to Secretary Jewell for the hard work of our Department of Interior to battle fire at its highest, most dangerous level. States rights? They’re not up to the task.