You haven’t been hearing that much about it on the news, due to the horrific events in Ukraine. But about a million acres of the Pacific Northwest are burning right now. The flames — actually, 21 separate blazes, mostly set by lightning — are sweeping though a vast area of Oregon and Washington, and nearly 9,000 firefighters have been brought in from as far away as Illinois and Mississippi in an effort to contain the fires, according to CNN.
Apparently, the forests were primed for fire by a wet spring followed by a brutal summer drought, the New York Times reports. The biggest single fire, called the Carlton Complex, already has burned up an area in northern Washington that’s three times the size of Seattle.
President Obama, who has asked Congress for $615 million in emergency spending to fight western wildfires, attributed the conflagrations to climate change. “A lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns and a lot of that has to do with climate change,” he said at a political event in Seattle, according to the Associated Press.
An article published in Nature in 2009 found that forest fires are not just the result of climate change, but actually are contributing to the warming trend. As trees and other vegetation burn, they release stored-up carbon into the atmosphere.
In addition to naturally-occurring wildfires such as the ones in the Pacific Northwest, humans in some parts of the world have exacerbated the damage by using fires as a cheap, easy way to clear forests for farming or building. Such deforestation fires are estimated to have contributed 20 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions that people have pumped into the atmosphere since the mid-1800s.