Just an average day walking around China (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Have you seen Bozeman lately? Neither have I. Some days the smoke is so thick you’re lucky to see a block ahead. I can't believe I saw people out jogging in this. Hello, second hand smoke.

We have many forest fires in the area and many others in adjoining states that are blowing this way filling our valley with high levels of toxic smoke.

Are more fires contributing to climate change, or is climate change contributing to more forest fires? That’s a debate for another day.

Here are some things you might not have known about our local tinderboxes.

Facts About Forest Fires

  • An uncontrolled fire is often referred to as a “peat” fire. They are most often started in remote unpopulated areas but can spread rapidly.
  • Other fire terminology includes surface fires, dependent crown fires, spot fires and ground fires.
  • In spite of lightning striking the earth over 100,000 times a day only 10-20 percent of these strikes cause fires.
  • Human’s account for 90% of wildfires.
  • “Crown Fires” move across the tops of trees. “Running Crown Fires” are very dangerous due to their rapid movement and unpredictable changes in direction.
  • A fire in Maine and New Brunswick, Canada burned 3 million acres of forest in 1825. (For reference an acre is about the size of a football field without the end zones.)
  • Layers of dead leaves, trees, and twigs can sometimes create enough heat to cause spontaneous combustion and create a wildfire.
  • The average amount of forests burned in any given year? 1.2 million acres.
  • A “conflagration,” or very large fire, can modify local conditions enough to produce it’s own weather.
  • San Diego, Los Angeles, and Riverside, California have seen Beijing, China (pictured above) pollution levels at least twice in the past 12 years due to southern California wild fires.
  • For five days in 2013 the air quality in Grants Pass, OR, caused by the Douglas Complex and Big Windy Complex fires had air quality so bad it was too high for the air quality meter to read. For 9 days citizens were advised not to go outside for any reason.

Some Final Thoughts

While we haven’t had poor air quality to those levels just yet, they could be coming. Our fire season is in its infancy with 8 weeks or maybe more to go. Our state funds that help pay for fire control and rescue are running thin.

As noted above most fires are started by human contact — not nature. It’s important for all of us to be very careful with fire when camping or cooking outside.

Smokey The Bear’s tagline is still, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

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(Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)