Zero percent contained. During fire season, those are chilling words. And when a slew of fires broke out across the state last Friday, it was the only stat that could be reported. Right now, the fires are outrunning our ability to fight them — state and federal officials have called in the U.S. Army, and firefighters from Australia may not be far behind.
In February and March, with relatively balmy temperatures, you could hear locals say it felt more like California — and they meant it in a good way. Now, after what could be the hottest summer ever, it's feeling like California in the worst way, with drought, wildfires and Death Valley-like heat.
The Big Burn author Timothy Egan was calling it "Sicily in Seattle" way back in a July 3 New York Times column. He pointed out that June was the hottest ever in Seattle; he didn't know it yet, but July would also break the heat record.
Is this the new normal? Less snow, fewer fish, more wildfires? While we're in the middle of it, with our Washington brothers and sisters literally losing their homes, and with city dwellers breathing the proof of it, we have to fight. And let's all pray for the safety of the many firefighters who have been rushed from site to site; they are heroes, but growing more haggard by the day, with fire season showing no signs of letting up.
"You're drained. You're soaked. You're sweaty. You're hungry," Julie Johns, a volunteer firefighter in Stevens County, told KHQ-TV. "And here it is ... 2:30 in the morning, and you know you're looking at the fire and going, 'It's at least another two, three hours here.'"
It's especially dire in Stevens County, where the sheer number of fires across the state left them so thin on manpower that, in too many cases, they could only protect homes and watch the forest burn.
The whole idea of climate change is so overwhelming, you want to tune it out. But this summer, the smokey skies won't let us. It might seem like an insensitive time to inject politics, but we need to face facts.
As Egan put it, "All of this has made me curse Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, who calls the global scientific consensus on climate change 'the greatest hoax.' And sadly, it matters what he says, because Inhofe chairs the Senate committee in charge of doing something about climate change."
In case you hadn't noticed, there's an election on. At the very least, we can judge candidates on how serious they are about listening to science and leading us back to the old normal. ♦