Best of the West: Western states help California battle wildfires; the scariest fundraiser in Washington; an economic balancing act in Colorado

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Oct. 28, 2019. Photo courtesy of Ventura County Fire.

As many as a dozen wildfires are burning across California, triggering statewide evacuations, school closures and power shutdowns.

According to the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), active incidents within the Golden State include the Kincade Fire to the north – at 60% containment (as of Oct. 31), the Easy Fire near Simi Valley (5% containment), and the newly-ignited 46 Fire near Riverside (5% containment). Most recently, the Hillside fire erupted in San Bernardino early in the morning of Oct. 31.

With strong Santa Ana winds gusting up to 80 mph in some areas, the National Weather Service in Los Angles has declared an “extreme red flag warning,” CNN reports. As a preventative measure, utility company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has shut off power to certain parts of the state, leaving more than 200,000 residents without electricity. Nevertheless, CBS News reports that fire officials recently identified PG&E equipment malfunctions as the catalyst for two fires in the state.

Across the West, a multitude of entities are pitching in to battle the infernos, such as a Montana-based fire aviation company, approximately 300 ground personnel from Oregon, and even fire departments from Nebraska. Other states providing assistance include Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Washington, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.  

There is some positive news about wildfires, however. According to KTAR News, “for the first time in nine years, the U.S. Forest Service ended the fiscal year without depleting its fire suppression budget and having to borrow money from other projects to continue fighting wildfires.”

To learn more about WGA’s policy work on wildfire management, click here.

Haunted Benefit: After a 1996 flood ravaged the town of Palouse in eastern Washington, residents began hosting an annual haunted house event to raise money for repairs. Since then, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, Haunted Palouse has amassed more than $650,000 for various improvement projects, all the while bringing together its community in the process. Learn more about the frightening fundraiser.

Economic Balancing Act: The small town of Silt in western Colorado’s Garfield County is involved in a difficult economic balancing act. While some residents of the rural town are dependent on recreation jobs at ski resorts to the east, others rely on the oil and gas industry to the west to make ends meet. According to The Bill Lane Center for the American West, visions for the region’s future vary, and each possibility is not without its challenges. Find out how Silt and towns like it are working to modernize their economies.

Preserving Tradition: In an effort to keep their way of life alive, members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington recently gathered on the shores of the Columbia River to release 30 chinook salmon above Grand Coulee Dam. High Country News reports that the ceremonial event, which included prayer, songs and speeches, marked the first time in almost 80 years that salmon – previously blocked by the dam’s construction – were able to move upstream. Check out photos from the event.

The Worst-Kept Secret: Rick Zimmer, a physical education teacher at Roosevelt High School in Casper, Wyoming, has a secret: he loves his job. He also loves social-emotional learning, chocolate protein shakes and the music of Kenny Chesney. Read the Casper Star-Tribune’s profile to discover how this 29-year veteran of teaching inspires his students through physical activity and teamwork exercises.

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