Two wildfires at Pole Creek and Bald Mountain have burned at least 125,500 acres at the time of this writing, forcing thousands of people to evacuate.
Maria Groves, professor of Geography at Weber State University, said that lightning strikes seem to be a more and more common catalyst for American Southwest wildfires.
“Lightning caused the fires in Utah County beginning on September 18 and continues to burn with winds of over 35 miles per hour,” Groves said. “To date, the Bald Mountain and Pole Creek fires have burned 17,999 acres and 98, 642 acres respectively and are not contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service.”
Groves said the smoke from these fires can adversely affect air quality within a 1000-mile radius.
“Ogden has seen Utah and Salt Lake County fires affect the local air quality this summer, increasing the fine particulate matter to unhealthy levels as the fires are under 100 miles away,” Groves said.
Dan Bedford, climatologist and geography professor at WSU, said the mountains surrounding Ogden make it difficult for the smoke to disperse through the air.
“It’s been very dry as the climate changes,” said Bedford. “We get more droughts and heatwaves, and over time, you look at the trends, and we are getting dryer and hotter conditions. That means we don’t get as much rain to wash the smoke out of the air.”
Aside from the public health effects caused by wildfire smoke, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that it will spend more than two-thirds of its budget to battle the amount of fires in the coming decade.
While wildfires are a necessity for ecosystems to thrive, these blazes consume resources that would otherwise be spent on forest and watershed restoration and landscape management.