When I touched down last week in Spokane, Washington, I couldn't see the city skyline through the haze. The smoke was omnipresent in northern Idaho, where the rusty sky looked like something out of an apocalyptic sci-fi movie, and western Montana, where the usually cobalt Flathead Lake was a dingy gray.
More than 8 million acres have burned this year, which the Washington Post notes is "larger than the state of Maryland." This could be the worst fire season in U.S. history, thanks to Alaska's "terrifying" conflagrations.
There's a huge financial cost to homeowners and business owners. And the U.S. Forest Service will spend more than half its budget fighting blazes. When the fire level is extreme, that's more than $100 million per week.
In the libertarian-ish west, firefighters are still hailed as heroes. But even as government employees fought to save lives and homes, Rand Paul was scoring political points at a Spokane rally. The Republican presidential hopeful bizarrely claimed western states would be better off without the heavy hand of the federal government.