The West is burning, and there’s no relief in sight. More than 80 large wildfires are raging in an area covering more than 1.4 million acres, primarily in California, Montana, and Oregon, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Taken together, that’s a wildfire larger than the state of Delaware.
California has declared a state of emergency as wildfires burn outside Los Angeles and threaten giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park. In Oregon, the Eagle Creek fire is tearing through the scenic Columbia River Gorge. Seattle, Boise, and Denver are socked in under a haze of smoky air and ash that experts predict could linger until the first snowfall in the mountains.
But nowhere are the fires more devastating than in Montana, where more than 1 million acres of forest burned this summer, and more than 467,000 acres are currently burning in 26 large fires that line the mountainous western side of the state.
Philip Higuera, a professor of fire ecology at the University of Montana, is used to seeing smoky air from his office window in September, but nothing like the thick smoke filling Missoula Valley right now. He recently spoke to CityLab about the fires raging across the West, what we can do about them, and why this year’s big burn might be the new normal.