An unexpected fire season is wreaking destruction across the western US, with wildfire spreading across multiple states. At least 15 people have been killed, and over 3,000 homes destroyed since the fire began. By Friday in Oregon, half a million people were ordered to evacuate as fires were rapidly advancing toward Salem and Portland’s suburbs.
California’s wildfires, which started in August and September, have already burned more acres than any year on record. As of Thursday, at least 10 western states are burning.
The images and stories coming out of the US are parallel to what Australians experienced in early 2020. This year, a large part of Australia was ablaze, with skies turning bright orange and smoke rising everywhere. Entire cities were being evacuated, and now history is repeating itself. The San Francisco sky has turned an ominous red-orange, with smoke covering the horizon.
A little glint of hope appeared when a blizzard slowed the fire growth in Colorado. However, the fire season hasn’t reached its peak, reports claim. The Washington state burned more this week than it ever has in the last 18 fire seasons. Governor Jay Inslee said there were “more acres burned [in this fire season]… than in 12 of the last 18 entire fire seasons in the state of Washington.”
What caused the fires?
Fire can start due to many reasons. Human activities like carelessly throwing a cigarette or fireworks can be a major cause. Some of the wildfires caused in California are the result of these accidental ignitions. Although there are occasions where a fire is deliberately lit, arson hasn’t been linked to this current wildfire.
Nature can also start fires with lightning strikes. There were a lot of thunderstorms in California in August. A long period without any precipitation and mismanagement of national forests can also cause the fire to start. With the long fire season, it will be very difficult to reduce and control the fires, which will aggravate their spread across the west.
This all seems similar to the bushfire crisis faced by Australians in early 2020. The environmental factors were the main reason behind the Australian bushfire, and they are playing out again in the US, negatively affecting climate change.
What areas are affected?
Fires are blazing throughout most of the western US, but the greatest areas affected are California and Oregon. More than 3.5 million acres have already been burned in California, 2500 more fires than in 2019.
The dust and smoke from the fire have turned California’s skies orange. Fire is rapidly spreading in Oregon due to the heavy winds.
“I want to be upfront in saying that we expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and human lives,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said during a briefing Tuesday. “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”
Washington is also experiencing large fires. Almost 350,00 acres have already been burned in a 24 hour period in early September.
Who’s fighting the fires?
In California, the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire, is trying to get hold of the fires, but more collaboration is needed. Various teams, such as the Teams of National Forest Service and other agencies’ “hotshot” teams traveled from as far as New Mexico to fight fires on the ground.
California also has a controversial “conservation camp” program in which prisoners are trained to fight fires. Prisoners can cut their sentences short and start their careers in emergency services upon their release.
According to BBC News, “Many conservation camps have been sidelined in the wildfire fight during this record-breaking season due to outbreaks of the coronavirus. But as of Thursday, inmate crews were out on the line fighting the out-of-control Creek Fire near Fresno.”
The efforts to suppress the flames are still ongoing, but according to environmentalists, it will take few more months to put this fire to an end, as the fire season hasn’t even reached its peak yet.