Paradise Ablaze: An Unprecedented Wildfire in the NJ Highlands

Climate change, shifting weather patterns, and a stark warning for the future

Paradise Ablaze: An Unprecedented Wildfire in the NJ Highlands
Photo by Joanne Francis / Unsplash

You know the saying, April showers bring May flowers? This year our April showers have been nonexistent until yesterday. It’s been one helluva dry Spring and that’s led to something I thought I’d never see in my beloved NJ Highlands, an out-of-control forest fire.

Yes, for the better part of 4 days, a wildfire raged out of control in the next town over from me. They managed to contain it but it scorched more than 900 acres. I don’t know if any houses have been destroyed but I do know that thousands of residents and over 140 horses were forced to evacuate.

This was the largest wildfire in our history, the last one was in 2010 and was a small brush fire that started along the highway. It was quickly controlled.

For years my neighbors and friends always said that California-style wildfires would never happen here. It’s too wet, they’d say. Then they’d smugly smile and go about their business. Yes, we are, were(?), blessed with abundant water and rainfall, but times are changing.

We’ve been having more droughts and sudden explosive rainfalls, not those long soaking ones that are needed to keep things wet. Our snowfall patterns are now massive dumps at once or nothing. We no longer have frequent smaller storms.

It gets warm in February, then cold, then warm again. It’s not a uniform cold till March warms up gradually. It’s different and I notice it. The weather cycle is changing and trying to find a new equilibrium, one that will make where I live differently.

Fort Lauderdale got slammed with over 20 inches of rain. People call it a “biblical” event but it’s not. It’s a combination of many things we humans have done to the world and will worsen this year as El Niño grabs hold.

Still, there are many people who don’t think this is related to climate change. Climate change is starting to hit us and we’re going to have to take a few hits before we wake up and say “We gotta do something.” By then, it will be too late. I believe it’s too late already. We need to prepare to live in a +4C world, and it won’t be pretty.

I wrote about it before, but it might be time to move if you live in Florida. I expect Florida to get slammed by rising ocean waters, hit with larger hurricanes, and governed by lunatics.

In fact, just about everywhere in the United States is going to feel the effects of El Niño this year. Here along the East Coast we’ll see dry winters (check) and very wet summers (the check jury is still out).

I’m preparing for big rainfall events and flooding here, with a hurricane or two thrown in. I’m expecting more trees, weakened by infestations like the Emerald Ash Borer, to be blown down and dry out over the winter. I’m expecting more fuel to be added and the stage set for another fire.

Last year we went to the great Southwest for a vacation. I lived out there for many years and wanted to share my love of the canyons, deserts, and Rocky Mountains with my family. One of the highlights was swimming in the Colorado River, just above the Glen Canyon dam.

We had a wonderful time but there was one thing that scared me, the water was too low. We parked our rental car on a sandy beach that would’ve been 20 feet underwater, and then we had to walk down a steep bank 20 more feet to get to the water’s edge.

As I felt the current flow underneath me, I knew that the original Colorado River bed was deeper below me. She was there, still flowing, but in danger of drying up. The entire Southwest was in danger of disappearing and taking all of us and all life with it.

The Great Salt Lake is almost gone. Scientists have warned Utah that it’s “all hands on deck” to cut water consumption. The white-haired men that run Utah would rather give people more guns and rule over women’s uterus than do anything to save them.

We, humans, thought we knew better, we thought we could run things, but we’re failing. In our quest to dominate Mother Nature and to bend her to our will, we’ve found out that we’ve only cut our own throats.