There are currently dozens of large wildfires burning over 7.8 million acres across western United States. Many blame global warming for the increased wildfires, as temperatures rise and droughts continue to plague much of the U.S. Fire seasons are longer and causing more frequent, large-scale, high-severity wildfires. The risk of large wildfires is expected to increase sixfold by mid-century.
These wildfires cost billions to battle, destroy property, displace wildfire, and are deadly; many firefighters have lost their lives battling the blazes. The smoke is dangerous to the heart and lungs and we can’t help but ponder what the fires impact is to the water.
Hundreds of thousands of gallons of fire-retardant chemicals (LC95A) are being dropped by air tankers to shield homes and protect firefighters from the wildfires. Laced with ammonia and nitrates, the chemicals have the potential to kill fish and taint water supplies.
New rules prohibit the application of fire-retardant chemicals within 600 feet of waterways. Air tanker pilots and crew commanders now are required to carry maps that identify sensitive terrain — such as areas where greenback cutthroat trout and Pawnee montane skipper butterflies are monitored as sentinel species. But if wildfires threaten people, the chemicals are applied regardless of the location.
Forest Service fire managers acknowledge concerns about toxic fire retardants degrading habitat and watersheds, yet they rely upon the bombers to protect houses and firefighters from the potentially catastrophic wildfires. LC95A air tankers target houses and power grids; the retardant cools and coats fuel, depleting fire of oxygen and slowing the combustion. A layer of retardant can slow the fire for about two hours which can be enough time for water to actually douse the flames.