One nation under flames

Fires over a thousand miles away affect our lives and future

Story by Reese Langdon, Feature Editor

Nearly twelve billion dollars in damages. One hundred twelve million tons of greenhouse gases released for generations ahead to suffer through. Eleven million gallons of fire retardant, causing chronic health problems for those in the surrounding area. Four million burnt acres. Ten thousand destroyed structures. Thousands of homeless and injured animals. Thirty-one lives lost and counting. 

That is just 2020 alone. To this day, the tragedy continues to spread acre by acre.

The California fires have caused immense destruction to the West, but that does not mean that they should be overlooked by the rest of the United States. Unbeknownst to many, all Americans are experiencing the consequences of the fires. This is not just California’s problem.

The poisoning smoke can travel for thousands of miles. There have been many evenings in Manhattan where the sunset’s beauty was masked with a grey tinted hue due to the suffocating smoke from California. 

There are 2,791 miles between Manhattan and Greenville, CA, where the biggest fire is located but only 1,891 miles between Texarkana, Texas and the Greenville fire. 

The evidence of the traveling smoke can be found in the unhealthy air at this very moment. The government’s official Fire and Smoke map shows that Texarkana has enough particulate matter (PM) 2.5 to be a health threat to smoke-sensitive people. 

PM is a mixture of solid particles with liquid droplets found in the air. PM2.5 is the term used for the smoke released in fires that can travel high into the atmosphere and far across the nation. The PM2.5 level is currently only high enough to disturb high-risk people’s lungs; however, with the hungry fires consuming more of California, it will eventually cause health concerns for everyone.

Being exposed to enough PM2.5 for just a short period of time can cause many different respiratory illnesses, heart problems and even premature death. These are just a few extreme examples of the trouble particulate matter can cause.

Additionally, the fires create toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. Breathing in too much of this air reduces the amount of oxygen getting into your bloodstream and being carried to your organs which can cause, once again, possibly deadly health problems.

The bigger the fire, the higher the smoke will travel into the atmosphere. The higher the smoke is in the atmosphere, the farther it travels and the more damage it does to the climate. Regardless of one’s beliefs, temperatures are rising, and the weather becomes more irrational every year. The wildfires release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere accelerating the trend of global warming.

The heat can cause a decline of water supply thus reducing the amount of land that can be used for agriculture and in turn lessens humans’ supply of food and water. The unrecorded loss of crops and clean water during wildfires should be a cause of concern for everyone. This is another example of a serious issue that is only going to worsen as the years go by, yet so many people choose to ignore it.

If the health problems of the future or the torn-apart animal habitats are not compelling enough, then maybe the dent the fires have caused in America’s economy will be.

This catastrophe has cost America $12 billion and counting. This money is used to rebuild the buildings that were set aflame and to suppress the never-ending fires. The planes, people and chemicals that have been bought in attempts to contain the fire have not been cheap. Almost $3 million of those dollars have been used for that purpose.

Many will scroll through Instagram or flip through channels and see something about the California calamity but disregard it without compassion. Instead of being divided among state lines, remember that there are not just Texans, just Arkansans, and just Californians; we are all Americans. It should not take a list of how the problems in California affect us individually to make selfish people worried about the ever-increasing catastrophe. Just the fact that 31 people have died, America is losing priceless land every minute, and the world’s environment is suffering due to the fires should be enough to raise genuine concern. 

If any readers are wondering what they can do to help, there are many organizations like the Red Cross, The California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund and The California Fire Foundation that help provide basic needs for victims of the fire. Anything will help, and it will be for the betterment of not just California but of all 50 states standing strong together.