Captain’s Log: July 2021 Where there is smoke, there is fire

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Captain’s Log: July 2021 Where there is smoke, there is fire

Date: 07/31/2021     Category: Captain's Blog    

The recurrent theme of our summers of late is fire and smoke. The phrase out of the frying pan and into the fire for our flights has been “out of the smoke and into the smoke.” What a month it has been. Right now, there are 105 fires burning in literally all of our western states and the smoke event is affecting even the East coast. Flying, let alone breathing, has been challenging at best. 

When learning to fly, we are taught basic instrument flying (flying in the clouds) and then, as we do at EcoFlight, we take it to another level and obtain our instrument flying certificate. Our work of course is VFR (visual flight rules) meaning you need at least 3 miles visibility and 500-1000 feet clear of clouds.

Well, during this month, our skills were put to use in spades. Starting out in Idaho, and then out of the proverbial frying pan and into Wyoming, Colorado and Utah into the all-enveloping smoke wherever we flew. We were relieved to have the necessary skills to utilize our instruments to confirm we were on course. 

Grateful to the various excellent smoke and wind forecasting apps, we scheduled our overflights to obtain the best possible results. And we were thrilled that in spite of the hazy conditions, our flights still educated passengers, changing mindsets and adding knowledge to some controversial issues. For example, on one flight a huge wind farm is being proposed near Twin Falls and the aerial perspective helped elected officials and the press understand more fully the challenges and the landscapes directly involved. We helped to dispel incorrect notions about grazing on public lands near the proposed sites, and how the feared visual pollution was ‘way out of sight’.

This was just one of many flights we accomplished in the smoky skies of our beloved West, but it all pales in comparison to the big picture, of an ever-warming planet, and out-of-control fire and storm events, families losing homes, communities losing infrastructure, firefighters losing their lives.

Janey ensures that climate is a discussion point on every overflight, and in her inimitable style she shared the following poignant statement about the fires and the state of our planet:

I work all over the Western United States, and I am lucky enough to recreate in our gorgeous public lands, so I get to see what is happening in the West on a daily basis. The situation we are in is dire – a climate crisis, a climate catastrophe, a climate emergency. Scientists have long predicted the heat dome, caused by pollution in the atmosphere that traps heat beneath it, and between it and the ground. We are all experiencing this in the West right now: drought, the melting of arctic ice (over the past 30 years, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95%), warmer oceans, stronger storms, more devastating wildfires, and the evaporation of our ever-diminishing fresh water.

Fires are earlier this season, and way more violent and dangerous. And the smoke in these photos is just a small example of the problem. I flew through smoke so thick near Bozeman that you could not see the ground or the blue sky above. I landed in Jackson, Wyoming, where it was freezing because the smoke had blocked the sun from penetrating through to the ground. Yes, we all use oil and gas, but can we use less? Can we be sure to offset our carbon? Can corporations lead the way to a cleaner atmosphere, as they did with extracting fossil fuels? Can they and we reverse this seemingly irreversible course we are on? Corporations and the 1% need to show more leadership. Money isn’t a factor at the pearly gates, so use it to do good now while it still matters.  

Bruce Gordon