Extreme heat is becoming more frequent—and our infrastructure is going to need to adapt

Out of the ashes of wildfire: Stories of recovery and resilience

Over the past decade, wildfires have grown larger and increased in intensity and destructiveness throughout Washington state. This alarming trend is illustrated clearly by the annual acres burned in the state: In the 1990s, an average of 86,000 acres burned each year. In the 2000s, the average increased to 189,000 acres annually. In the past five years, the annual average grew to more than 488,000 acres burned.

“Instead of rebuilding our communities every year, we need to prepare to make sure that we’re saving those communities.”

Bryan Jeter, the chief of police in Bonney Lake

Then came 2020. In just 72 hours over Labor Day weekend last year, more than 600,000 acres burned. By the end of the 2020 fire season, more than 1,600 wildfires had consumed more than 800,000 acres, destroyed 298 homes, and rung up tens of millions of dollars in firefighting costs…

Extreme heat is becoming more frequent—and our infrastructure is going to need to adapt

The unprecedented heat in the Pacific Northwest, a region that was hotter than the vast majority of the planet last weekend, led to several problems in local infrastructure. In Portland, the heat also made cables sag on the light rail system, shutting it down, too. Some roads buckled in the heat; on others, tar melted and oozed. Vinyl siding warped on houses.

The heat wave in the Northwest showed the fragility of systems that weren’t designed for triple-digit temperatures. As those heats become more common, engineers are rethinking what resilience means.

An electric utility in Spokane, Washington, started rolling blackouts, taking out power for thousands of residents. In Seattle, which hit an all-time record high of 104 degrees, there were more power outages, and workers sprayed water on steel drawbridges to keep them cool enough to operate. Emergency rooms saw a surge in heat-related illnesses.

In Northern California, as the heat dried out vegetation that was already dry from an ongoing drought, a wildfire erupted, threatening homes and shutting down a highway….

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