Wildfires have been common throughout Western regions of the United States for centuries.

In recent years, researchers and wildfires experts believe that certain conditions prevailing in the West, such as climate change have made the occurrences of wildfires in the area more frequent and intense. Statistics from the US Forest Service have estimated that in 2020 alone, over 8,133 fires have burned over a total of 5 million acres of land in the Western United States, from California to Oregon and Washington. This article will discuss some of the key facts about Western wildfires and will look at ways in which individuals, communities, and the US Government can work together to help mitigate the effects of these major events.

Causes of Western Wildfires 

Wildfires occurring in the Western United States are primarily the result of the combination of natural events, human activities, and changing climates.

Natural Causes

Natural causes of Western wildfires can include lightning strikes, high winds, and prolonged dry periods. When dry conditions exist, one single spark can be enough to ignite a large blaze.

Human Causes 

Human activities, often referred to as “reckless behavior,” can also contribute to the likelihood of a wildfire. The most common human activities that are seen to be the cause of wild lands can include campfires, fireworks, burning debris, and even the use of firearms.

Changing Climates 

Changes in the climate in the Western states can also contribute to the likelihood of a wildfire. As temperatures and humidity levels rise, vegetation is unable to absorb as much moisture from the environment, leaving it vulnerable to ever-changing weather conditions.

Effects of Western Wildfires

Wildfires in Western states present a range of dangers to both humans and wildlife alike. Here are some of the potential impacts that Western wildfires can have:

Loss of Livelihoods

Wildfires oftentimes cause destruction of businesses and citizens’ homes, resulting in a significant financial and emotional toll on local economies. In addition, agricultural areas and livestock can be adversely affected with the destruction of crops and loss of grazing areas.

Environmental Effects 

Wildfires often contribute to a decrease in air quality due to smoke particles and other pollutants being released into the air as the fire continues to burn. Exposure to these pollutants can have severe consequences for human health and can have lasting effects on ecosystems and biodiversity.

Increased Risk of Disease

Wildfires can also increase the risk of water-borne and vector-borne diseases, as the destruction of land weakens the natural barriers that protect rivers, streams, and other water sources from contamination.

Risks to Wildlife

Wildfires can have major impacts on animal populations, as an increased number of animals and birds can be driven away from their natural habitats due to the destruction of land. For example, in California, wildfires in 2019 caused the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of land, which resulted in the displacement of key species such as the mountain lion and the California condor.

Mitigation Strategies for Western Wildfires 

Due to the destructive nature of Western wildfires, there are a variety of alternatives that can be taken to reduce the impact they have on communities and the environment. Such mitigation strategies could be:

Personal Strategies

Individuals can reduce the risk of wildfires by refraining from starting fires, properly discarding cigarettes and matches, and checking for fire bans before beginning any outdoor activities.

Community Strategies

Communities can work together to increase their chances of survival during a wildfire by creating an emergency response plan, maintaining firebreaks in populated areas, and ensuring that all homes and businesses are equipped with fire extinguishers and other safety equipment.

Government Strategies

The US Government has already taken some measures to combat wildfires, such as the implementation of Wildland Fire Management plans and increased funding for firefighting programs. In addition, the government works with various organizations and experts in the field to develop better prevention strategies, such as improved fire detection technology, controlled burns, and improved forest management.

Wildfires in the Western states of the United States present a number of dangers, both to people and wildlife alike. It is therefore important that individuals, communities, and governments, take the necessary steps to reduce the risk posed by wildfires by implementing appropriate mitigation strategies. By doing so, we can help ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the beauty and benefits of the West without having to worry about the devastating effects of wildfires.