Wildfires are a natural part of California’s hot and dry landscape, but an unprecedented fire season is bringing anguish and fear to the entire West Coast as ash falls from sinister orange skies in California, Oregon and Washington.
Induced by record breaking temperatures and an exacerbated climate crisis, the fires have killed at least 24 people, with dozens more gone missing and thousands of homes destroyed.
According to the interagency incident information system, there are fires burning in at least 10 western states. In hard-hit Oregon, half a million people fell under evacuation orders as two fires threatened to merge into one massive one. The state’s governor, Kate Brown, called the fires a “once-in-a-generation event,” while Oregon state officials braced for the possibility of a “mass fatality incident.”
Trinity Pisarsky, a sophomore currently residing in Oakland, California says the air quality in the Bay Area has been “horrendous,” noting city officials are urging residents to stay inside and avoid particles in the air that can result in “permanent, life-long” lung damage.
“For the most part, the smoke is everywhere, like a thick fog, and occasionally the sky will appear to have a dark orange tint, which is the sun penetrating through the smoke,” Pisarsky said.
Pisarsky goes on to address how a high poverty rate and less resources like “having shelter from the smoke, a place to evacuate to and insurance if their property is damaged,” is leaving many marginalized groups and people of color disproportionately affected by the wildfires.
There are various origins for how these fires began. Some have been deemed a result of accidental ignition, whether that be poorly maintained infrastructure or gender reveal parties with firework displays, while others are attributed to nature, with intense thunderstorms and lightning strikes setting off large blazes in California last month.
While a lack of rain and low soil moisture make the West Coast specifically at risk for wildfires, scientists agree the blazes are exacerbated by the effects of global warming. According to the Climate Council, fire conditions are more dangerous now than ever before, with longer droughts, bushfire seasons, drier fuels and soils, and record-breaking temperatures. Unfortunately, the link between fires and climate change has become a hot-button political debate, despite experts overwhelmingly agreeing climate change is the root cause of the unprecedented nature of this current crisis.
President Trump traveled to Sacramento, California to meet with Gov. Gavin Newsom and state officials where he attributed the wildfire crisis solely to poor forest management.
“When trees fall down after a short period of time, they become very dry — really like a matchstick,” President Trump said.
Gov. Newsom and his top environmental advisor pushed the president on the issue.
“We come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science is in and observed evidence is self-evident that climate change is real, and that is exacerbating this,” said Newsom.
In response, President Trump argued “it’ll start getting cooler,” later adding “I don’t think science knows, actually,” what is happening.
Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden called the president a “climate arsonist,” adding his inaction and denial only fed the destruction on the West Coast as well as floods in the Midwest and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast.
“If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires?” Vice President Biden asked. “How many suburban neighborhoods will have been flooded out? How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms?”
There are numerous ways people can get involved, including donating to wildfire victims and evacuation centers, contacting elected officials to speak out on the growing climate crisis and by voting.