At least 35 people are dead following wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington, the Associated Press reported. The wildfires have burned over 4.6 million acres in 87 large fires.
With wildfires burning millions of acres, smoke has traveled down to Hawaii and all the way to New York. This poses a threat due to smoke inhalation and reduced visibility. The governor of California stated, “Stepping outside in these wildfire zones is equivalent to smoking 20 packs of cigarettes.” Air quality in Oregon, California and Washington has been ranked among the world’s worst, passing China.
“Wildfires are a natural occurrence that have always happened. They will always happen,” said Andy Thomas, former employee of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Forestry.
The Gatlinburg fires of 2016 impacted the community heavily. 14 lives were claimed in the fires caused by arson and damage was estimated to be over $500 million.
The wildfires in the West happen more often than in Tennessee and the Upper Cumberland; however, wildfires could rip across Tennessee as well.
“The terrain which is called urban interface is similar. Urban interface just means where homes and buildings are built near wooded areas or in wooded areas,” said Thomas.
This close proximity increases the odds of fires developing due to the possibility of human error when lack of safety measures are in place to contain them. While the Upper Cumberland area has wildfires, they usually can be controlled easily by local fire departments due to a high population of people.
“Humans can affect wildlife in negative and positive ways,” said Hannah Leftwich who is a junior at Tech majoring in Wildlife and Fisheries.
The El Dorado fire in California was caused by a gender reveal party. The party burned over 13,500 acres due to human negligence.
Nearly 85 percent of wildfires are caused by humans according to the United States National Park Service. Burning of debris, abandoning bonfires and discarding of cigarettes are the leading causes, due to humans. In Gatlinburg, wildfires were caused by two teenagers playing a game where you hold a match in your mouth as long as possible.
“Some people are not educated enough about fires, and that’s where it goes wrong. Sometimes fires can’t be prevented, but a lot of times they can and that starts with education,” said Leftwich.
These instances support the need for continuous fire safety education for residents living near these wooded areas as a preventative measure.
Wildfires are very destructive events that will always happen regardless of humans. The wildfires caused by humans could be prevented by learning basic fire safety. For more information about fire safety in Tennessee, visit www.BurnSafeTN.org.