The Scariest Part of These Fires Is What Happens Next

Noah Berger/AP/Shutterstock

It wasn’t all that long ago that banking on a relentless array of cascading wildfires consuming generous swaths of the United States was, well, a bit alarmist.

In 2006—the year Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth debuted—widely respected climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in her book Field Notes From a Catastrophe, “In the Southwest, forest fires are breaking out earlier, and burning more intensely.” Still, she noted in that same book that the frequency of fires was among “the uncertainties that remain,” among scientists exploring the effects of climate change.

In science, consensus comes slowly, but it seems to have arrived in this case—and it’s not pleasant. From routine fire tornadoes to generations of kids being radically altered by inhaling the smoke borne from wildfires hitting urban areas (and not just forests), scientists are painting a dire picture of the future, one made even spookier by a dearth of unknowns.

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