Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan from USA

Wildfire season started early this year for us in Missoula, Montana. I was skipping rocks with my almost-four-year-old son at Rattlesnake Creek when a telltale haze began to blur the edges of the nearby hills—smoke from wildfires already burning in the region. It was July 10, much earlier than it’s supposed to be. But clearly, things won’t be as they’re supposed to anymore.

A climate change-fueled megadrought has been parching the West for years. We’d been told to expect more frequent and intense wildfires because of it, and this year, we really felt it. I can’t count the number of times the air quality tipped into the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” or “unhealthy” categories, as smoke from fires as far away as California and Oregon settled in our valley. Those were hard days. We didn’t want to expose our two kids (we also have an 18-month-old daughter) to the choking particulate matter hanging in the air, so holed up inside our house for days on end. My daughter would grab her shoes, carry them to the door, and cry, not understanding why we couldn’t play outside. My son would shout, “I hate smoke season!” when we once again tried to explain why he couldn’t go swimming, to the playground, to the farmers’ market.

Even with our three air purifiers running around the clock, I worried about the smoke that was undoubtedly seeping into my son’s preschool, the grocery store, the library, and anywhere else we tried to go. I pictured the smoke’s particulate matter piling up in my kids’ bloodstreams with every breath they took, setting off a dangerous inflammatory response in their little bodies. Every child deserves clean air to breathe and the chance to play freely outside. Too often, the children in the West this summer did not get that chance.

Some might say we just had a bad summer. But I’m afraid an awful smoke season is here to stay. Next summer could be worse—and summers after that will be worse, if we don’t take drastic action to eliminate fossil fuels and curb climate change right now. I’m afraid our beautiful home will be uninhabitable during my kids’ lifetimes. We can’t let that happen.

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