West Coast Faces Worst Wildfires in Nearly 18 Years


Photo by: Josh O'Connor

Record setting fires blaze across West Coast, officials cite climate change as the culprit

The worst wildfires in nearly two decades are currently ravaging the West Coast, and its effects are being felt all the way to Western Europe. Over five million acres of land across California, Oregon, and Washington State have been scorched since the initial ignition in mid- August, killing over 30 and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee from their homes [New York Times]. 

Since the beginning of the year, California alone has experienced nearly 7,900 wildfires across the state. These current wildfires, however, are like nothing the West has experienced in decades. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said in an interview that the intensity of the destruction is like a “World War II ground hit by fire bombing,” with thousands of buildings and residences destroyed [CNN]. 

Debate surrounding the exact cause of the unusually debilitating fires grabbed national media attention in the past weeks, primarily due to the vastly different approaches the current presidential candidates are taking in sight of the 2020 election. “President Trump again tried to put the blame on forest management, while his rival, former Vice President Joe Biden pointed to climate change,” [NPR]. Most scientists cite climate change as the primary cause, stating that the rising temperatures make it easier for the fires to gain traction. 

The effects of the fires aren’t just being felt in the West. “Plumes of smoke from the fires are so large, they have crossed the U.S. and the Atlantic Ocean, carried by the jet stream, and have reached the skies of Europe,” [BBC]. Northern Virginia saw the effects of the fire just last week, with a milky haze blanketing the sky as a result of the ash particles travelling in the air. 

Fire departments in the region are hoping that forecasted rain will help further control the only 41 percent contained wildfires [US Forest Service Department as of Sept 17]. “Rain is in the forecast for parts of Oregon and Washington, but there’s little rainfall in sight for California, where officials warned warm and dry conditions will elevate the dangers of the fire,” [CNN]. 

Authorities ordered communities near the fires to evacuate their homes in an effort to preserve as many lives as possible. “We got everything together,” said California resident and evacuee, Peter Trono to CNN. “I hope my neighbors got out and they are all safe. I pray we come back to a home and if we don’t, it’s just stuff, right?”