Putting the massive West Coast wildfires into context

Read and see the history, shared perspectives and experiences of people facing these natural disasters on the front lines.

Paradise California fire shows a van engulfed in flames amidst a burning forest

In this Nov. 8, 2018, file photo, flames burn inside a van as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, California. (Noah Berger/AP)

Wildfires are ripping across the West Coast during a fire season the region has never seen before. At least 15 people have died and that number is expected to rise, according to The New York Times. Half a million Oregonians — 10% of the state's population — have been evacuated as of Friday morning, reports NPR's Up First podcast. Malden, a Washington state town in Whitman County of about 200 people, almost completely burned to the ground over Labor Day weekend. Spokane-area TV station KHQ posted a drone video Sept. 10 surveying the damage. And still more of us cope with thick, smoky skies and marvel at blood orange surroundings. 

Last year, Crosscut published a series of articles about wildfires and how they shape the Pacific Northwest. We delved into the history and shared perspectives and experiences from people on the front lines. Today, their stories and knowledge is more relevant than ever. We've recapped many of the articles below, or you can explore the entire series for yourself.

In the fight against Washington wildfires, drones are now as vital as chainsaws

Wildland firefighting has become an increasingly high-tech endeavor. Maps drawn from satellite imagery are coupled with microscale weather forecasts and sent to firefighters on the fire lines. Unmanned aircraft watch and, increasingly, fight the fires. All those efforts depend on support workers just behind the fire lines.

Here's more about the tech used to fight fires — and the people behind it.


Fighting fire with fire to save Washington's forests

Not all fires are created equal. Controlled burns conducted by firefighters each year, starting about mid-August, help manage wildfire risk and promote healthier forests. There’s even a hashtag, #goodfires, that national forests are using to help the public realize fire’s benefit. When wildfire threatens towns and people, prescribed burns can make all the difference. Read the full story.


The secret history of smokejumpers in Washington's Methow Valley

Now a staple of combating wildfires across the West, one of the most elite firefighting programs was developed by barnstormers and foresters in Washington state. Watch the video above, then see the full story.


'It just builds up': Washington firefighters struggle with PTSD long after the fires go out

Tom Hatley, a division chief training at the Valleyford Fire Station, Sept. 4, 2019. (Rajah Bose for Crosscut)

As wildfires become more common, Washington firefighters are creating support networks for their communities to deal with the mental trauma. Learn more about solutions to this emerging issue.


Climate change got you down? There's a word for what you're feeling

"I lived through Hurricane Katrina and mourn what was lost. Now, in a land vulnerable to wildfires, I fear for my new home in the Pacific Northwest. When I discovered the term for environmental anguish, in a National Geographic write-up, it felt like a diagnosis. I read the definition over and over again." Learn from Caroline Gerdes about coping with the trauma of climate change.


How Washington's 'summer of fire' nearly destroyed Seattle, Spokane and Ellensburg

In 1889, as the Territory of Washington was poised to become a state, a triple tragedy occurred. Seattle, Ellensburg and Spokane — all booming communities — burned to the ground in quick sequence, changing lives and the course of history. Learn more from Mossback.



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