At least 46 wildfires are burning across eight Western states as a massive “heat dome” drives record-breaking heat in the region — all of which is pushing the electrical grid and firefighters to, or past, the breaking point. Climate change, mainly caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme heat and supercharging wildfires. North of Los Angeles, the Route Fire exploded Wednesday in triple-digit heat, burning over 5,200 acres in just over 30 hours. In addition to burning at least two structures, and one dog, several firefighters were hospitalized with heat-related injuries.
As extreme drought and heat supercharge wildfires, the intense, near-year-round fire seasons are taking a growing toll on firefighters. The extreme, and worsening, stress of the job, compounded by the dearth of support is increasing mental illness, addiction, and suicide among wildland firefighters. One current smokejumper, among the most elite of wildland firefighters, told the Wall Street Journal, some of their colleagues wear the names of colleagues who have died by suicide on their helmets.
“There’s a crystal clear awareness that this is urgent,” Jeff Rupert, director of the DOI Office of Wildland Fire, told the Wall Street Journal. “Unfortunately, that recognition comes from terrible losses and negative outcomes,” Patricia O’Brien, a clinical psychologist and a former elite firefighter, told the Wall Street Journal. (Western Fires: Axios; California grid/heat/fires: LA Times $, AP; Route Fire: (Washington Post $, CNN, LA Times photos; Dog: KTLA; Firefighters: Wall Street Journal $, NBC; Climate Signals background: Extreme heat and heatwaves, Wildfires, Western megadrought)