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The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Senior Issue 2024
June 5, 2024

Fires on the West Coast

By Mercedes Halliburton
Staff Writer
By Lea Rabaron
Science Editor

In the past few months, forest fires have ravaged the West Coast in record numbers. With over five million acres of land destroyed in California, Oregon and Washington, West Coast inhabitants have been left dreading the future of their cities and of their homes. Although these fires spark mostly from lighting strikes, the root cause is one which we have heard of time and time again—global warming. The recursive, cliché term which has been cause for controversy in recent years is now back to manifest itself once more, this time in a directly hazardous and pervasive way.   

The science behind this is fairly simple, hotter temperatures create a drier climate, which makes the environment more prone to frequent and severe wildfires. The climate, however, is not the only cause behind the ravenous West Coast fires. Over the years, wildfires have been constantly suppressed to allow for industrial development, creating a dangerous build-up of fuel and leaving the West Coast prone to abnormally large fires. Were it not for outdated fire management practices, this hellish disaster could have been partially averted. To decrease the amount of pent-up fuel, the U.S Forest Service should have conducted much more controlled burnings and left certain low-level fires alone rather than aggressively extinguishing them.

As our global temperature rises year by year, the West Coast is becoming increasingly more susceptible to larger, widespread fires. In 2020, fire activity has proven to be significantly higher than any other year. The sweeping flames which have always usually remained in remote forests are now wreaking havoc upon inhabited regions, leaving thousands of buildings destroyed and a current total of thirty-seven people dead. In Oregon, the fires have gotten dangerously close to the I-5 interstate highway, destroying entire communities along the road. Local fire departments are fighting restlessly to keep this inferno away from towns and cities, but they struggle to tame what are now considered the largest fires the West Coast has seen in over twenty years.  

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Since the earliest fires on the West Coast, there have been thousands of evacuations, as fire officials try to control the situation.  “Because the economic situation is not as strong right now, maybe it takes longer to do the forest management which is so good for prevention of fires.” a local from the Los Angeles area explains. While the fires spread and burn down remains of already charred trees, COVID-19 is still a threat. The wildfires are leaving large portions of land with mounds of ash and dangerous fumes, which increase the need for masks and goggles. 

The fumes and chemicals present in the air are causing lung poisoning, which can later make COVID a major risk. Another concern related to COVID-19 is that evacuated locals are being shoved into refuge centers, contradicting the original intention of social distancing rules, and further spreading the disease. When asked about their thoughts on the matter, a California local pointed out some of these concerns.

“Because of all the fear of getting sick, people are trying to stay at their homes for as long as they can, I think, which is really not the right thing to do. Fear of going somewhere else and catching the disease is a big consideration,” they said.

Over one million residential homes on the West Coast have been destroyed these past couple of weeks, leaving thousands of individuals homeless. With COVID on their tail, locals are having a difficult time obtaining the materials needed for survival. Many people lost their jobs and profits during this global pandemic, and now, with their homes and belongings gone, they believe there is little to no hope. It will take a while before locals get back on their feet. 

Naturally, after any disaster, anyone near the affected area starts taking safety measures. Questions like “What actions can I take if I must evacuate?” and “Can masks and face coverings reduce wildfire smoke exposure?” are plugged into every search bar. When punching in these words, every mind thinks the same thing, I hope it does not come to that. In these conditions, however, it is likely that it will. In the meantime, there are thousands of evacuations and precautions, like staying away from smoke and wearing masks and face shields outdoors at all times being put into place. We have yet to see the long term effects, but in the short term, first responders and health officials are doing everything in their power to control the crisis.  

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Fires on the West Coast