Sixty-six million acres of America’s forests have burned in the past ten years. That’s a wildfire nearly the size of New Jersey every year. And after the fires are contained, after the camera crews leave, the devastation to the land and its people grows—flash floods, giant invasive weeds, dangerous erosion, hurricane-level winds, orphaned animals, and disease-causing stress and fear. Scientists are clear on why fires have increased in size and intensity: the climate crisis. And psychologists have a term for how this affects those who live on, or care about, this land: climate grief. This is the new American West.
Journalist Patricia Prijatel and her family fled the East Peak fire of 2013 in a dramatic escape one June evening, then returned to do what they could to help the mountain rebuild. Burn Scars: An Inside Look at Climate Grief follows them through six years of living in a changed ecosystem. They learned that nature has the last word, especially when it is unleashed from its normal patterns. The land that had been their healer and refuge now needed healing. Worse, it felt unsafe.
Prijatel and her mountain valley are a petri dish for the effects of warming temperatures in America’s forests, which lead to fires that warm the earth even more, wounding the land, often irreparably, and leading to PTSD, stress, anxiety, and fear.
Burns scars are what’s left after a wildfire. This is the story of the East Peak Fire’s many scars.
Patricia Prijatel is a journalism educator and writer whose goal is to help people make sense of things with hope and humor. Her last name is the Slovene word for friend.