Alex Heldrich, Reporter
The wildfires in Washington started June 28. While many of the wildfires that littered Washington have been put out by firefighters, some continue to burn.
According to the Incident Information System, more than one million acres of land were marred by the fires in less than four months. The Okanogan Complex fire set the Washington state record for being the largest recorded fire.
Puyallup had two brush fires near Emerald Ridge High School during July and August.
“I remember waking up and I said ‘something’s on fire,” Vekissa Drake, student ambassador, said. “It was hard to see where, but we could smell (the fire). It lingered for hours.”
Thousands of firefighters not only from Washington state but Australia and New Zealand came to help. On Aug. 19, four firefighters were caught in a deadly blaze in Twisp, Wash. The only survivor, Daniel Lyon of Puyallup, received severe burns on more than half his body.
The wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes and affected the lives of thousands of people.
“It would suck having to move away from all of your stuff and where you grew up,” student Paighton Gryll said.
Wildfires forced the closure of five Washington state parks due to public safety. The closure of these parks put a damper on businesses in the surrounding areas that rely on summer campers and hikers for business.
The smoky haze that covered the entirety of Washington was a health hazard, as toxic gases in the smoke are linked to cancer and at high levels can cause death. The poor air quality affected citizens statewide. People in areas of smoke were advised to stay indoors and keep windows closed.
Drake experienced effects of the poor air quality.
“My son has asthma,” Drake said. “The high air pollution days were strenuous for us. I did find myself at the doctor a little more with him and him using his inhaler a little more this summer.”
People and animals alike were affected by the wildfires.
“Without (wildlife), what do we really have?” Drake said. “Everything has its place in life and if you take away the wildlife, it’s just us.”
The poor air quality also caused many animals to have breathing problems.
According to kirotv.com, Mishka, an asthmatic sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium, was forced to use an inhaler after having an allergy attack caused by the smoke.
Animal shelters tried to rescue and evacuate pets left behind by owners. Efforts to rescue livestock from farms were also in motion. Listings for the lost animals were posted online to help reconnect them with their owners.
Although some of the large wildfires were caused by forces of nature, many of the brush fires can be attributed to humans. Sparks from vehicles and discarded cigarette butts were a main contributor to the fires alongside roads and freeways.
“Who would throw a cigarette or anything flammable knowing we haven’t had water in months?” Drake said. “Even though it’s raining, we’re still in drought mode.”
People in regions undergoing a drought can take precautions to avoid igniting a wildfire. Methods include properly dousing campfires after use, discarding cigarettes into water or ashtrays, burning yard waste in small batches and insuring a properly functioning spark arrester on vehicles.
People from all over the state and country are donating money and materials to help the families who lost their belongings to the fires. Social media and donation website campaigns are accessible to people who want to help.
Places such as state parks that were damaged or threatened by the wildfires began reopening in September for one final kick before closing for the winter.
The Pierce County burn ban that lasted all summer was lifted as of Sept. 22 but it’s still in place in some parts of the state.
Federal funding by the government is helping to repair the fire-damaged lands. Site rehabilitation typically occurs within three years after a wildfire. According to Central Washington Fire Recovery, three steps are taken to repair federal lands after a fire.
The first step is fire suppression repair, which entails a series of immediate actions to repair the damage to the environment by work crews and machines such as repairing roads, trails, safety zones and drop points.
The next step is emergency stabilization: burned area emergency response. This is when the damaged areas are assessed for any post-wildfire threats that may affect human life and safety, property or important natural resources. From there BAER takes action to solve the problems. Solutions often include seeding and mulching to prevent erosion, recovering areas and posting warning signs.
The third step, long-term recovery and restoration, works to restore burned habitats and make it a livable ecosystem for wildlife once again.
Although parts of Washington may never look the same, life will return. Citizens will go back to their homes, wildlife will adapt to new habitats and Mother Nature will reclaim the land once again.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost