West Coast Wildfires: A Devastating Byproduct of Climate Change

Wildfires are becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence in states located on the West Coast. California, Oregon, and Washington continue to be affected by these fires as millions of people are forced to evacuate their homes and abandon their belongings. West Coast residents are coming to terms with the fact that these fires are going to be part of their new normal. However, these wildfires are not increasing in frequency and severity just by chance; they are the result of climate change.

Our planet has continued to warm since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s when humans began to burn fossil fuels. These fossil fuels released carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, trapping excess heat. Since the 1980s, the planet has warmed approximately 0.3 degrees F per decade. Over this time, climate change has caused rising sea levels, extreme weather, and widespread droughts. In these dry conditions and higher temperatures, wildfires need only fuel and a catalyst to erupt and spread. As a result, West Coast residents are faced with larger and more dangerous wildfires each year. In California, Oregon, and Washington combined, approximately 3,380,708 acres of land have already been burned in 2021. Unfortunately, this worsening trend shows no signs of stopping.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, roughly 90% of land on the West Coast is experiencing moderate to severe drought. Aggravated by the heat waves felt by most West Coast residents in June of 2021, fire season began one month earlier than it did in 2020. The Dixie Fire is the second-largest fire on record for California, second only to the August Complex Fire that burned over 1,000,000 acres of land in 2020. So far, the Dixie Fire has destroyed over 1,000 structures over five counties. All fires in California have burned roughly 2,000,000 acres so far in 2021.

The West Coast continues, year after year, to break records – but these are not records that we want to be breaking. Every year, the fires tearing through West Coast states are larger, they burn more land, they’re more dangerous, and they continue to devastate our communities. Every year, more people are forced to flee their homes. Every year, climate change worsens drastically.

Rather than surrender to paralysis, we should look for solutions at the local level that can have a wider impact and set a positive precedent for other affected areas. Evidence suggests that the routine and careful administration of controlled burns mitigates the potential for larger fires, as it robs the wildfire of one of its crucial needs: fuel. In the short term, to reduce fuel for the fires, we could apply controlled burns in a limited manner rather than eliminate them completely. In the short- and long-term, we have to reduce our fossil fuel emissions, which includes turning off our electronic devices when they’re not in use, reusing products, recycling, and taking public transportation. If we want any chance at helping our planet, we must take these necessary steps to reduce our carbon footprint and ultimately curb the devastating aftermath of climate change.

Firefighter works the scene as flames push towards homes during the Creek fire in the Cascadel Woods area of unincorporated Madera County, California...
Photo by Josh Edelson on gettyimages.com
  1. https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-wildfires#:~:text=About%2010.1%20million%20acres%20were,structures%20and%20killing%2033%20people.
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/wildfires-air-quality-tracker.html
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/aug/04/california-west-coast-wildfires-weather
  4. https://climate.nasa.gov/blog/3066/the-climate-connections-of-a-record-fire-year-in-the-us-west/ 
  5. https://www.npr.org/2021/08/09/1026137249/with-extreme-fires-burning-forest-service-stops-good-fires-too
  6. https://www.npr.org/2021/08/31/1029821831/to-stop-extreme-wildfires-california-is-learning-from-florida

Published by Iliana Close

Iliana Close is a senior at Carlmont High School in Belmont, California with interdisciplinary interests in medicine, conservation and public health policy. She is a lifelong vegetarian and environmental activist with a passion for human and animal rights. Iliana has been competing in science fairs in biology and computational systems and analysis since she was in 5th grade and has competed at the state level for the past 3 years. She has received many 1st place and Grand Prize awards, and in 2020 she was honored to be an ISEF finalist for her project “Predicting the Development of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome Using Machine Learning and Automated Feature Detection.” When Iliana is not studying or working on her science fair projects, she spends her time taking care of her seven adopted animals, playing piano and trombone, or with the horses at the Stanford Red Barn.

4 thoughts on “West Coast Wildfires: A Devastating Byproduct of Climate Change

  1. Well done. Do not listen to the trolls and haters. You have an incredibly bright future ahead of you and are already leaving your footprints. You write with passion and your brilliance shines through in all you do. Keep your head up and know you have many people pulling for you.

  2. Terrific and well-researched work, Ms. Close! I’m very well studied on climate change myself, and you’re a talented, clear communicator of a complex and urgent subject. Take care and best of luck in all of your endeavors! Scott J

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