Tonight, I'm down at my Mom's house in Columbus, Georgia for a bit of preliminary birthday celebration (hooray!). I walked outside my apartment in Athens this morning and the air smelled of burning, which means that the smoke from the massive, record-breaking wildfires in south Georgia has drifted over the rest of the state. Usually, the wind blows from west to east, but fires this big start to generate their own weather systems, and the wind is blowing to the west and north.
All the way down the road today, a whitish haze hung in the air and the smell of burning streamed into the car through the AC vents. I coughed and sneezed a little, but it was bearable. However, when I got to my mom's friend Martha's house around 2:30 for lunch, Martha was wheezing and coughing. She's been having problems since the wind changed direction last week. Asthma, congestion, and, bizarrely, cold sores and shingles.
"Cold sores and shingles?" I asked, "How can smoke in the air cause that?"
"Immune response," said Martha, "Coping with the ash and smoke you're breathing weakens the rest of your immune system, makes all kinds a crazy stuff happen in your body."
She hung on through lunch, but her breathing got more labored and the color slowly drained from her face. Finally, she had to go lay down. My mom and I did the dishes and we went back out into the smoky air and came back across the river to my mom's house.
The National Weather Service has issued multiple smoke warnings today, urging the elderly, small children, and people with asthma, allergies, or other respiratory problems to stay in air-conditioned environments, or to wear a face-mask if they must go outside, and to limit their exposure to the air. There is no fresh air in Georgia today, and there won't be for a while.
There's no rain in the forecast. These fires will burn out of control until some very specific things happen:
With 475,000 acres already burned, metro Atlanta suffering from lung-choking smoke, the southern Georgia wildfire has inspired many to wish not just for rain, but a real whopper: a tropical storm.
The kind of drenching rain that fills gullies (and dried-out swamps, in this case) may be the antidote to the drought that set the stage for the record-breaking wildfire. And the South may get it, as federal hurricane scientists yesterday added their predictions to a growing list that forecast a very active hurricane season.
Who would ever have thought that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, anyone in the South or anywhere else would be praying for a hurricane? Otherwise, though, there's just not enough water in the state to put out a 475,000 acre wildfire.
I've been praying for rain every day. I would appreciate if you guys would consider doing the same. My state is burning.
Of course, ask any Republican and they'll tell you that climate change is a myth, that Al Gore is a charlatan, and that humans have nothing to do with global warming. They've got top-notch scientists (*cough!*) who they've paid to agree with them.
Clearly, they don't live in Georgia and no-one in their family is fighting for each breath like my mom's best friend.
And of course, if anything from the real world has actually managed to penetrate their moneyed, Right-Wing bubble, whether it's smoke or asthma or just a decline in profits this quarter, I'm sure they'll find a way to pin blame on the Clintons.
(Photo of Georgia from space from NASA.)