Something remarkable happened last week, Wednesday July 21, in Otsego County. It happened in other places, too — New York City, Philadelphia, Albany, Ontario, Boston — in fact in the entire northeastern part of the country.
Most people thought it was a heavy fog, typical of all the other heavy fogs that are apt to enshroud us in the mornings this time of year, only to disappear before noon when the sun burns through the atmosphere.
But it wasn’t that familiar heavy fog. It was smoke, and it came from the abundant, heavy, uncontrolled wildfires currently blazing far out west. And with it the National Weather Service sent out air quality warnings.
To date this year, more than 75 wildfires have scorched more than one million acres in 13 western states. The Bootleg fire in Oregon is the largest in the state’s history. It’s half the size of Rhode Island and so massive it has created its own weather. Of the fires in California, all but one exist by natural causes — extremely high temperatures — and they total more than 2,000 square miles of inconceivable heat, flame and threat.
And we are still in July, not August, when historically most wildfires spring up.
The devastating wildfire season is being worsened by the most severe drought in a century, and by heat waves that have shattered records across the Northwest. To this end, land-use planning, forest management, emergency outreach efforts, housing policies and climate factors are being reassessed, causing new rules and a multitude of changes throughout the area.
We have not experienced these droughts and wildfires to that extent here in the Northeast, though most certainly our summer of 2021 has been hotter and more humid than those in the past. We are lucky. We have a lot of water; we don’t necessarily have earthquakes and severe drought (though we are witnessing some seriously major windstorms and rainstorms and some surprisingly higher temperatures); and very few tornadoes have been recorded.
So then, what about that fog that stayed over Otsego Lake all day (and is still here this week) that was really California and Oregon and Washington and Canada smoke? We are experiencing the effects of those wildfires in the West, and as such we can – must — assume that those problems facing our western friends are our problems here as well. This is a mounting global situation.
Forests in particular store large amounts of carbon, and when they burn they immediately release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which in turn contributes to climate change. They also release carbon dioxide through decomposition.
It has been shown that wildfire pollution is more hazardous than car pollution, and when that pollution travels long distances (say, from one coast to another) in a lingering, lengthy amount of time, the chemical makeup changes in a way that makes it even more hazardous and toxic to the humans at the other end, especially those with lung and asthmatic conditions.
Wear a mask, preferably an N-95, next time that smoke comes to Cooperstown.
These wildfires affect the Earth’s climate. Perhaps it’s now time for us all to make a momentous effort to address and correct climate change, the villain that is the key factor in increasing the risk and extent of wildfires and drought in the West. We are all affected. We must not hand this down to our children.