In May this year, the nearly unthinkable happened in the Pacific Northwest: The rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula, one of the wettest places on the continent, caught fire. By August, an inferno was stirring in the forests east of the Cascades. A wind-whipped blaze near the mountain town of Twisp, Washington — a “hell storm,” to quote a local sheriff — claimed the lives of three Forest Service fire scouts. That blaze soon exploded into the worst wildfire in state history, charring more than 300,000 acres and destroying dozens of homes.
As they raged, the wildfires in eastern Oregon and Washington devoured an area nearly the size of Delaware. The states called up more than 1,000 members of their National Guards, and the Army mobilized 200 active-duty troops to the fire lines. Ten Blackhawk helicopters and four C-130 Hercules aircraft deployed to help fight fire from the skies. With Gov. Jay Inslee calling the blazes an “unprecedented cataclysm,” Washington even deputized citizen volunteers to fight the fires, where they joined professional crews from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.