Wildfires in the West affect Tribal communities

wildfire tribal

wildfire tribal

Embers blow across a field as the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, burns in Doyle, Calif., on Friday. Noah Berger | AP

Wildfires across the west are affecting already-dry land that belongs to Indigenous communities. Wildfires are currently blazing in 12 western states, threatening Tribal members, along with the land upon which they live. 

Indigenous communities in the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, which is composed of 12 Bands, were recently evacuated due to fires caused by lightning strikes and other natural events. Hundreds of people were ordered to leave due to the danger of the largest of five wildfires.

The Klamanth Tribes of Oregon also face danger from fires across the state. “There is definitely extensive damage to the forest where we have our treaty rights,” said Don Gentry, the chairman of the Klamath Tribal Council in Chiloquin, Oregon, located near the still-burning Bootleg Fire. Chairman Gentry continued, “I am sure we have lost a number of deer to the fire. We are definitely concerned. I know there are cultural resource areas and sensitive areas that are likely the fire is going through.”

Most fires caused by humans

This is not the first time the Klamanth Tribes have faced fire damage to their ancestral lands. Last year the Klamanth Tribes, which includes the Klamanth, Modoc, and Yahooskin Tribes, lost land where tribe members hunt, fish and gather due to wildfire. The tribes’ cemetery was also burned, along with at least one tribal member’s home.

According to scientists, climate crisis has led to more fires in the west — along with other areas across the United States, which are seeing extreme high temperatures and dry land. Scientists have urged citizens across the country to take steps to mitigate their individual and collective impact on climate crisis. 

Meanwhile, more than 80% of wildfires are caused by individuals, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Increased drought from climate crisis can lead to a longer and more intense wildfire season. 

The Bootleg Fire in Oregon has doubled in size every day, and currently spans an area larger than New York City. Due to safety concerns, professionals are unable to consistently fight the fire without taking breaks, and the “weather isn’t going to change for the foreseeable future,” said Bootleg Fire incident commander Rob Allen.

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