So far, in 2021, Oregon has experienced 736 fires caused by humans and 193 as a result of lightning strikes, impacting a total of 186,333.64 acres of land. In 2020, five towns in Oregon were decimated by fires, including Detroit, Blue River, Vida, Phoenix, and Talent. Many areas throughout the Pacific Northwest experience air quality conditions ranging from haze to “Martian atmosphere” as winds circulate the smoke across the region.
The Center for Climate and Energy solutions cites climate change as a critical factor in the rising number of wildfires in the Western United States. According to these experts, temperature, soil moisture, the presence of trees and shrubs, and potential fuel all increase the risk of wildfires. From 1984 to 2015, we’ve seen a 100% increase in the number of large fires, likely due to warmer temperatures in our region that increase the drying rate of organic matter in our forests (fuel).
As average temperatures increase and wildfires increase in number, the wildfires emit carbon dioxide into the air, further increasing the average temperature. An academic research study published results in 2017 showed that 8 billion tons of CO2 had entered the atmosphere from forest fires each year for the past two decades. Extreme fires can have far more damaging effects. California wildfires in 2017 that destroyed large tracts of its wine country reportedly emitted as much CO2 in one week as all of the state’s cars and trucks produce in a year.
Carbon dioxide isn’t the only pollutant creating problems.
Another pollutant of wildfires is an aerosol called black carbon. Black carbon hangs around in the upper atmosphere and absorbs heat from the sun. The heat lingers and radiates from the black carbon, increasing the temperature of the atmosphere.
Wildfires also lead to methane escaping from the ground, particularly from areas covered in permafrost. By August 16 of 2021, over 40 million acres of forest have burned in Siberia. The hardest-hit forests have been in the Republic of Sakha in northeastern Russia. The heat from the fires certainly helps the melting to begin, but even after the flames are extinguished, the resulting increases in temperature continue to wipe out the permafrost. As the permafrost melts, the methane stored in it escapes into the atmosphere. Methane is 84 times more potent in trapping heat and is suspected of causing about 30% of global heating. And yes, it is flammable, so actively escaping methane adds more fuel to a raging fire.
How can we decrease the number of wildfires?
There is no easy solution to reducing the risk of wildfires. Currently, regions use low-hanging fruit solutions to prevent fires: prohibiting campfires, banning fireworks, turning off power lines during high winds, trimming trees away from power lines, and encouraging homeowners to create defensible boundaries. In the 1980s, there was a push to clean up and use forest debris to generate electricity from biomass. Still, most plants eventually closed because they could not make the price of the power affordable enough.
Today, it’s clear we need to employ many alternative energy solutions to reduce carbon emissions and help alleviate hot weather conditions that often result in wildfires. By doing what we can to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, we can decrease many harmful impacts on our Earth.
Learn more about why clean energy solutions are essential for our communities at RVCCC.
The Rogue Valley Clean Cities Coalition’s mission is to enhance the livability of the Rogue Valley. We promote and educate on alternate fuels, seek to decrease dependency on petroleum, and promote clean air and water in the Rogue Valley via alternate fuels. Contact us today for more information!