Democratic lawmakers and their constituents gathered in Washington, D.C., Thursday to share personal stories about extreme weather fueled by climate change — and to call on Congress to act.
“We need to work much, much faster and much more aggressively,” said Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood of Talent, Ore., where a wildfire killed three people, destroyed more than 700 homes and displaced roughly a third of the town of 6,500 last year.
“That fire went through our community like an X-Acto knife,” the mayor said.
But last September’s fire was small in comparison to Oregon’s massive Bootleg Fire, one of more than 78 large wildfires now burning across 13 states. Smoke from those and others in Canada has blanketed much of the United States, shrouding cities like Washington and New York in hazy red-orange skies and resulting in unhealthy air quality.
“These are not your grandfather’s fires,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said. “They are vastly more powerful.”
Many of them are also bigger.
David Cochran, chief of the Reno, Nev., fire department, pointed out that the Tamarack Fire, now burning in California and Nevada, is about the size of Washington, D.C., or 68 square miles. The Bootleg Fire, at 617 square miles, is about 10 times that size.
“The fires are getting bigger and more intense, and we can tie that directly to climate, certainly,” Cochran said.
Record heat and extreme drought driven by climate change dry out the grass, brush and trees that fuel wildfires.
“They catch fire easier, they burn faster, they burn longer and they burn hotter,” Cochran said.
More than 20,000 wildland firefighters and support personnel are currently fighting wildfires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Cochran said fire departments around the country are currently at Preparedness Level 5, meaning that they have maxed out resources for fighting wildfires, even though, as he said, “we’re not at peak fire season yet.”
It’s not just wildfires that are stretching the resources of first responders. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., represents a district that is now grappling with flash floods that left at least one person dead and three people missing.
“Extreme weather events are inescapable. They are getting worse,” Neguse said. “It is time for Congress to take bold action to protect our communities, to protect our country and ultimately to protect our planet.”
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