Smokey wildfires in California impact Maryland sunsets


6 Graphics Explain the Climate Feedback Loop Fueling US Fires by Nancy Harris, Thailynn Munroe and Kelly Levin

Erin Patterson, Staff Writer

For many years, we have seen the effects of human development: the depletion of Earth’s resources and the accelerating loss of remaining resources. On Sept. 15, 2020, our own Dulaney community saw the consequences of the large California wildfires. If someone looked up at the sky they would see a large orange sun with smokey clouds surrounding the approaching night time sky. Curious as to what had caused this strange sunset, people were informed that the wildfires had shown an influence from over 3,000 miles away.

This was the first time scientists have seen the direct influence of the West Coast forest fires on the East Coast. There were several pictures shared of the orange cloudy sky and blazing flames tearing apart communities and burning down houses. The same fire-red sun from California appeared in Maryland as the sun set. From Timonium, Maryland, we were able to understand what people on the other side of the country were experiencing. Because the smoke was 10 to 20,000 feet in the atmosphere, it was visible to the whole country. Luckily, the smoke’s altitude was high enough in Timonium, Maryland, so it did not impact the air quality as greatly as it did in California.

Most scientists cannot identify the exact start of the wildfires, but we do know that due to the increasing effects of climate change, the fires were worse than imagined. In a recent interview with the New York Times in 2020, Park Williams commented “‘This climate-change connection is straightforward: Warmer temperatures dry out fuels. In areas with abundant and very dry fuels, all you need is a spark’”. 

Due to dry land, low moisture, desiccated vegetation and warmer temperatures, the fires were able to spread quickly over more land than previous. The millions of acres now destroyed show what will continue to happen with rising greenhouse gas emissions and climbing heat temperatures. 

Fire-related emissions are over three times higher than in normal years. This means that as the fires increase, the more carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases are released into the Earth’s atmosphere.

CNBC writes that “over 80% of fires are started by people, through such things as campfires, explosive fireworks and cigarette butts”. Although many inconsiderate human actions cause fires, there is no doubt climate change has a large impact too.

Others believe these fires are damaging more land because of the lack of land management. In a 2018 interview with President Trump, he referenced actions other countries were taking in order to prevent fires this large. Many groups of people agree with President Trump and believe the absence of California’s forest management primarily causes fires.

Regardless of what someone believes caused the fires, whether it was climate change, irresponsible actions from humans or lack of forest management, the most important thing to consider is how the growing intensity of fires will affect the future.