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The West Is on Fire. Get Used to It.

A fire ecologist explains why this summer’s wildfires are so dramatic, and why the West will have to learn to live with a more severe burning season.
Air quality in Missoula, Montana, has become hazardous, thanks to multiple wildfires burning throughout the West.
Air quality in Missoula, Montana, has become hazardous, thanks to multiple wildfires burning throughout the West.Patrick Record/AP

The West is burning, and there’s no relief in sight. More than 80 large wildfires are raging in an area covering more than 1.4 million acres, primarily in California, Montana, and Oregon, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Taken together, that’s a wildfire larger than the state of Delaware.

California has declared a state of emergency as wildfires burn outside Los Angeles and threaten giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park. In Oregon, the Eagle Creek fire is tearing through the scenic Columbia River Gorge. Seattle, Boise, and Denver are socked in under a haze of smoky air and ash that experts predict could linger until the first snowfall in the mountains.