You Can Help Prevent Forest Fires. Yes, Really.

No firehose needed.

Seth Wenig/AP

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Yesterday, I asked Mother Jones readers how they were handling the wildfire smoke that has blanketed the East Coast. Several readers mentioned that they had moved away from the West in recent years to escape the problem, only for poor air quality to visit them again in places like Virginia and Wisconsin. But what most stood out to me were some readers’ suggestions for channeling environmental anguish into action.

One reader correctly pointed out that forest fires are not strictly caused by climate change. A century of misguided fire suppression tactics has paradoxically made our forests more susceptible to flames, as we reported in 2019. But we have personal agency, too. While dry conditions allow forest fires to grow, many are started by human carelessness—from leaving campfires unattended to target shooting without regard for flying sparks.

Today, a New York Times opinion piece by Clare Frank, California’s former chief of fire protection, suggested that we use harsher penalties against those who start fires and that we increase our public awareness of the dangers of recklessness in the woods. While I chafe at the notion of solving wildfires through prosecution in a broken criminal justice system, I appreciate the suggestion that we should approach wildfire prevention as we do “seatbelts, tornado shelters, safe sex, tobacco reduction and helmets.” Just as it’s important not to become complacent about mass shootings, it’s vital that we don’t take forest fires and the resulting smoke as a given—and I thank the reader who pointed this out to me.

To that end, several readers mentioned community involvement as an antidote to despair. “It is infuriating that more greedy mismanagement of the planet has led to more suffering, health deterioration and mobility restrictions,” wrote Donna Robin Lippman, who said that she spent the afternoon phone banking to remind voters of upcoming special elections. “I felt an urgent need to do something proactive to counter this horror.” 

One reader who preferred to remain anonymous wrote:

2020 was a wake up call to me with how important it is to get involved with local community and setting up networks of aid and care. From community gardening, to learning first aid and continuing to work with with my local mutual aid group. I would urge anyone who’s scared or concerned to translate that worry into action, friendships and stronger communities.

Amen to that!

And in the meantime, if you’re looking for the best way to purify the air in your home, we’ve got you covered.

This article first appeared in the Mother Jones Daily, our newsletter that cuts through the noise to help you make sense of the most important stories of the day. Sign up for free here!

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This is the rubber-meets-road moment: the early days in our first fundraising drive since we took a big swing and merged with CIR to bring fearless investigative reporting to the internet, radio, video, and everywhere else that people need an antidote to lies and propaganda.

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