As we drive into Truckee at 11pm, nothing is visible besides the omnipresent smoke. Despite closed windows and no external air circulation, the smokey smell pervades the car. My heart races and I begin to feel despondent. The pure, untouched Tahoe that I have known throughout my childhood suddenly seems to slip away.
Every year, new fires are progressively more severe and uncontainable. They threaten not only Tahoe but the entire state of California, known for its natural beauty and ecological diversity, and more generally the entire American West. The Mosquito Fire, which was first detected on September 6th, is just the latest in what will most likely be a long and extreme fire season. It is actively burning east of the town of Foresthill in the Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests. It has already burned 76,290 acres, comparable to the area of one and a half Oaklands. The burning vegetation largely consists of brush and timber on steep and rugged landscapes, and over 3,000 personnel have been called in. Communities in both Placer and El Dorado counties have been evacuated.
While I was in Truckee, the air quality reached up to 499 AQI, past the point when the air is deemed extremely hazardous. Thankful that my friends and I had cars so we could drive an hour north to the healthy air, I could not help thinking about all of the trees and animals who did not have that luxury. Trees make it possible for humans to breathe, yet we are creating dangerous environmental conditions that are making it nearly impossible for them to do the same. As we drove, I did not notice a single animal. Tahoe, a landscape rich in biodiversity, seemed lifeless.
Every year, fire danger is worsening as California endures longer droughts and more extreme heat. It is sad that these circumstances are not temporary. This is just the beginning, and my generation will have to deal with this for the rest of our lives. Everyday, it seems like a new weather disaster headlines the news, each shattering records and creating unprecedented circumstances that no one really knows how to address. Just this week, Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico and Western Japan is suffering from a typhoon of a magnitude not seen in years.
The possible silver lining to these disasters is that people are waking up to the climate crisis. It is no longer a theoretical topic that they can easily ignore for a couple more decades. Nearly everyone has already directly felt its effects. I hope that in turn, more people become emboldened to take action and demand more from governments. Tahoe, and the rest of the planet, cannot afford to lose more time.
Thankfully, heavy rains last weekend have helped to reduce the Mosquito Fire. However, responders are keeping an eye out for debris and ash flows, and warm and dry weather is expected to return in the coming days. Hopefully, the fire is completely contained soon and the area is relieved from any more disasters this season so that the Tahoe of my childhood does not disappear for good.