As a wildland firefighter I was assigned to the Umpqua North Complex east of Glide, Oregon during August and September. I served as a task force leader in suppressing lighting caused wildfires which burned over 43,000 acres.

As a wildland firefighter I was assigned to the Umpqua North Complex east of Glide, Oregon during August and September.  I served as a task force leader in suppressing lighting caused wildfires which burned over 43,000 acres.
While in Oregon I heard the locals lament the fact that the west was experiencing their own natural disasters while all of the national attention was focused on Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria.  Harvey hit the Houston area while I was in Oregon.  Irma went up Florida’s Gulf coast just as I returned to Neosho.  
Is it just coincidence that the summer of 2017 brought the Caribbean and our southern states record breaking hurricanes, while our western states continued to experience record breaking fire events?  How do our weather disasters like the Joplin tornado and major Midwest wildfires fit into the picture?  Nationally the largest fire event of 2017 was the Northwest Oklahoma Complex, which burned 780,000 acres in western Oklahoma and southwestern Kansas this past spring.
   As I was learning the ways of wildland firefighting, old time Missouri firefighters told me: “There is a road to every fire.”   This quote proved to be mostly true during my four decade Missouri firefighting career.
From 1970 to 1989 the Missouri Department of Conservation, reported that over 5600 fires occurred in the Neosho Forestry District which included Newton, Barry and McDonald counties. This was nearly 10% of the wildfires in the state with over 88,000 acres burned.      Humans are responsible for 99.2% of all of Missouri fire activity.  Hence “There is a road to every fire”.  Today Missouri wildfires burn an average of 24,000 acres per year.  Luckily Missouri is not currently following the national trend.
Nationally nearly two-thirds of all wildfires are lighting caused.    The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports that “the 2017 fire season is continuing the trend of the last several years that has led many to suggest we are in a ‘new normal’ for wildland fire: fires igniting with a higher frequency, burning with a greater intensity, and covering larger areas”.   In Oregon, fire season has gone from about one month a year in the 1950’s to nearly three months per year now.
 As western wildland fires are intensifying, so are hurricanes.  Jonathan Erdman, senior meteorologist with the Weather Channel, said “September 2017 was the single most active month for Atlantic tropical cyclones on record, topping the previous record from September 2004”.   He further said “A stretch of eight straight hurricanes from August 9 through September 29, in 2017 was a first in the Atlantic basin in 124 years”.  Also, for the first time in history September saw two Category 4 or stronger storms in the Atlantic at the same time.
Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth from the National Center for Atmospheric Research says tropical storms are born and survive on hot tropical ocean water.    Sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic have been between 0.9 and 1.8 degrees warmer than average this summer.  Some big storm development is thought to be based on climate change.   
It is interesting to note that while national fire seasons are getting longer and hotter we are also experiencing near record Atlantic Ocean tropical storm activity all due to warmer than normal weather.   Both phenomena are ongoing.  Hurricane Nate recently hit our southern coast.   In a 48 hour period 100 square miles of northern California, including portions of the city of Santa Rosa, burned.   
Is this evidence of global warming?  We would be wise to pay attention as climatologists and meteorologists continue researching connections.

Gary Smith writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.