I read the issue on fire with great interest (HCN, 7/8/02: The anatomy of fire). As have so many in the West, I have mourned all that we have lost and all that we are likely to lose in the coming months and years.
But I have not seen in HCN, or elsewhere, a discussion of what is happening on the planet that is creating the conditions for these fires. Yes, they have been started by bizarre sets of circumstances, yet they would not have grown to their massive sizes if the West wasn't exceedingly dry and the weather "exceptionally" (or so it seems) hot. Yet, these are just two of the consequences that the climate-change scientists have been trying to warn us about for many years now.
Most recently, the Climate Change 2001 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the international group of scientists that has worked to assemble and report on the probable effects of climate change) warned that likely effects of climate change include "increased summer drying over most mid-latitude continental interiors and associated risk of drought," and "increased risk of forest fire."
As Americans, we are the number-one gross emitter of climate-change gases. We have been in deep denial about our role in the climate-change process; the longer we choose to stay in denial, the more serious the consequences will become in the coming century. For all of us who have seen what the fires of 2002 have done, this should be a sobering thought.
Those of us in the West who have glimpsed the future and seen how disastrous it can and will be must heed this wake-up call and talk to friends and neighbors, newspaper editors and car makers, community planners and political representatives about what is happening and the imperative to change our ways - now!!
P.S. The people of Durango might begin by asking Dodge to quit making the vehicle named after their town.