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West Coast forest fires hit close to home for some Colby students

For nearly a month, wildfires have burned across the western United States, affecting students at the College who hail from the northwest. While large fires have blazed across all of the states along the West Coast, California has experienced the greatest number.

Of the approximately thirty fires actively burning, roughly half of them are in California. Californian fires have also burned more intensely than the fires of other states. The August Complex, one the largest, most intense fires of the entire season, has smoldered in the Mendocino National Forest since mid-August.

Thousands of dedicated firefighters have risked their lives attempting to contain the fires, but an excess of dry plant matter and strong winds have prevented them from gaining full control over the situation. An exceptionally dry summer and the seasonal Santa Ana winds have provided the fires with an incredible amount of fuel.

Many students at the College have experienced past wildfires and currently have family dealing with the impacts of them. Jack Hansen `23 is from Menlo Park, a suburb of San Francisco, roughly forty-five miles from the city center. He noted that in the Bay Area, wildfires are a relatively frequent occurrence.

“They’re pretty common,” Hansen said in an interview with The Colby Echo. “The grass in the valley is a tinderbox for fires. In the past, I’ve gone on camping trips with my dad to Yosemite, and almost every year we’ve gone, there’s been at least one forest fire that we’ve seen.”

While summer wildfires have burned around the San Francisco area throughout his life, Hansen believes that this year’s fires have come closer to his house than any in past years.

“They’re around a fair amount now. It’s not uncommon to see a forest fire,” he said. “Ever since the big drought season in California a few years ago, they’ve been pretty common. There hasn’t been a whole lot of rain in California for the past eight years or so. I remember when I was younger, it used to rain a lot more.”

Hansen said that the fires have luckily stayed away from his hometown; however, the effects of nearby fires have been profound. They have thrown massive amounts of ash and soot into the air, making it difficult and sometimes dangerous to breathe.

“In the Bay Area and in our town, the air quality is awful. It’s essentially raining ash,” Hansen remarked. “It gets dark at 2 p.m. because of the ash.”

James Lui `23, also hails from the Bay Area, specifically the Forest Hill district of San Francisco. He has encountered wildfires throughout his life and recalled two recent fires about a thirty-minute drive from his home.

“I heard about the one in Redwood City, and there was one in Santa Rosa, which is up north of San Francisco,” Lui said.

Within the past week, images of California’s orange sky have gone viral across social media platforms. Lui said that his parents sent him pictures of the sky over his home.

“My parents sent me photos, and that looked a lot scarier than anything I’ve ever seen,” Lui said.

The sky is ominous and frightening, but like Hansen, Lui believes that the wildfire’s most dangerous impact is their air pollution.

“My high school had days canceled because of the air quality,” Lui explained. “We couldn’t do sports after school.”

Until the air becomes safer to breathe, Lui’s parents will spend most of their time indoors.

~Matt Rocha `23

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