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Flames and earthquake outbreak

While the Gulf Coast is submerged in Hurricane Harvey’s murky waters, and the east coast prepares for the impact of Hurricane Irma, the western half of the country is dealing with the opposite end of the disaster spectrum: fire.  

Due to a hot, dry summer in the western US, the conditions for wildfires have become ideal. Mother Nature acted on these conditions on Labor Day weekend. Montana, Oregon, Idaho, Washington State, and California are losing hundreds of thousands of acres to flames.  

“The wind is extremely strong, and they don’t have the fire as contained as they want to. The wind is perfect, unfortunately. The polar jet stream is perfectly blowing over that region, which is pushing everything [the fires] down. The area didn’t receive as much rain as they usually do this summer. It was the perfect fire situation,” Cara Germann, LPHS Earth Science teacher, said.

These conditions sparked fires in Montana when lightning struck a dry area. Some news sources are reporting that in Montana alone, over a million acres have already burnt- and the fire is still burning.

A fire in California led to the evacuation of over 2,000 residents.  While firefighters fought to contain the flames, over 70 homes were damaged or destroyed.  

National parks are susceptible to the forest fires, as well, and the 2017 wildfire season has not left them unscathed. Glacier National Park is currently staving off as many flames as possible, though some historical structures of the park have already been destroyed.

“A lot of national parks are really nervous because they’re losing structures. They’re losing irreplaceable buildings that’ve been there since the 1900s,” Germann said.

More than just being entrenched in flames, southwest Idaho and northwest Utah are dealing with an entirely different natural catastrophe.

“Blair and I were sitting in the basement and suddenly the house moved. It was almost like the boys were running down the stairs, but there was no noise. It was a little freaky. We looked at each other and Blair said, ‘I think we just had an earthquake!’ Within seconds people were asking on Facebook if everyone else felt it,” Natalie Higley, resident of Malad, Idaho, said.

The epicenter of the largest earthquake struck the Soda Springs, Idaho, area on Saturday, September 2nd. While earthquakes are not uncommon out west, the earthquake that many people felt was 5.3 in magnitude. For the region, a 5.3 earthquake is fairly large- large enough that residents in Utah could feel the tremors. What followed the Soda Springs earthquake was over 100 smaller aftershocks in just a few days.  

“It’s not what you think of in the movies where buildings are moving and falling apart. At most, your cabinets opened, and something fell off a shelf,” Germann said.

The cause of these earthquakes is under dispute. The typical source of earthquakes is friction at the place where tectonic plates meet, referred to as fault lines. The region dealing with the quakes does not sit on any major fault line, though, leading scientists to believe that the cause of the earthquakes is human.

“They’re looking into a human cause. They do a lot of wastewater well injections there, so they’re thinking that by adding wastewater, they’re changing the pressure underground, which is causing the earthquake. They’re leaning toward a human influence in that seismic region,” Germann said.  

Though the overabundance of earthquakes seems worrisome, the cause of the earthquakes is more important to scientists than their sheer number and magnitude.  

“It’s definitely something they’re keeping an eye on and trying to monitor to see if there’s a relationship between something we’re doing and if we’re affecting the earth,” Germann said.

As scientists watch and investigate the unfolding of an already hectic natural disaster season, citizens should heed their warnings and evacuate when advised.  While it seems as though the world is falling apart, citizens should remember that the best way to stay safe is to be prepared and stay aware. For more information on how to stay safe during wildfire season, visit http://www.nfpa.org/.  For more information on what to do during an earthquake, visit https://www.fema.gov/earthquake-safety-home/.  For more information on how to prepare for and remain safe during a hurricane, visit http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/hurricane.

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