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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Northwest Wildfires Photographed From Space

This photo from Aug. 16, 2015 shows several of the wildfires being fought in Washington and Oregon.
Courtesy of NASA
This photo from Aug. 16, 2015 shows several of the wildfires being fought in Washington and Oregon.

From space, the West looks like it’s on fire.

In Washington state, brown smoke obscures the Cascades in these photos taken by a NASA  satellite.

Most of the fires across the West have been triggered by lightning strikes, but years of drought have turned the forests bone dry.

Wildfire season here is also longer now than it was decades ago, likely because of climate change, according to a recent study in Nature. The study, led by U.S. Forest Service ecologist Matt Jolly, found that wildfire season is a month longer than it was 35 years ago. Researchers examined the years 1979-2013.

Jolly wrote that the fires have been spurred by a noxious cocktail of high temperatures, rain-free days and maximum wind speeds.

More than a dozen wildfires are blazing across Washington state, although much of the attention is centered around Lake Chelan. Fires in that area had burned nearly 114,000 acres as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, according to the Incident Information System. Dozens of homes and other buildings have been destroyed, and the smoke has caused unhealthy air conditions in a large region of eastern Washington.

Kurt Stich, a crew boss with Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue, said that the fire was burning away the grass and trees that have been holding large boulders in place for years.

“We’re seeing 100, 200, 300 pound rocks rolling down the hill,” he said.

In addition to the rattlesnakes that live in the hills, Stich said bees “are another big issue right now.”

“A number of our guys have been stung multiple times,” Stich said. “So those and the steepness of the terrain are the things that these guys are dealing with on an everyday basis.”

Related: Wildfires Now Attack Damp Land: Preview Ashley Ahearn’s Podcast On NPR

[asset-images[{"caption": "Wildfires have burned 7 million acres across the West. A NASA satellite captured these images.", "fid": "119986", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201508/nasa-smoke.JPG", "attribution": "Credit NASA"}]]

[asset-images[{"caption": "We're unsure if this is of Washington or Oregon -- is that the Columbia River in the left corner? ", "fid": "119985", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201508/nasa-2.JPG", "attribution": "Credit NASA"}]][asset-images[{"caption": "California wildfires from space.", "fid": "119983", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201508/california_amo_2015217.jpg", "attribution": "Credit NASA"}]]MAP: Check the current wildfire situation

Latest experimental model #wildfire smoke forecast. Courtesy of USFS #idwx #orwx #wawx #mtwx — NWS Boise (@NWSBoise) August 19, 2015

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Triââ