The Western Inferno

Smoke from various wildfires burning across Northern California mixes with the marine layer, creating darkness and an orange glow. San Francisco, September 9, 2020. Image: Philip Pacheco/Getty
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Smoke from various wildfires burning across Northern California mixes with the marine layer, creating darkness and an orange glow. San Francisco, September 9, 2020. Image: Philip Pacheco/Getty

About 100 wildfires are currently raging across the western US, killing at least 16 people—a death toll likely to rise—and razing ~4.4 million acres so far, the BBC reports.

The fires forced more than 1/8 of Oregon’s population—half a million people—to flee their homes this week, and displaced thousands more in neighboring Washington and California.

Arson is suspected in one of the Oregon fires, but global warming has created the ideal conditions for the inferno, climate scientists say—leaving dried-out vegetation that can easily ignite, whipped up by dry winds, Al Jazeera reports.

“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state,” says Oregon Governor Kate Brown. “We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change.”

It feels “all too real” for Californians, where mega fires and heatwaves have burned millions of acres, blanketed regions with toxic air, and fueled power outages, The New York Times reports.

The overlapping disasters signal an acceleration of climate impacts that is happening faster than even scientists anticipated; residents say it feels apocalyptic.

“Never do I remember 23 straight days of orange, oppressive, smoky skies, leaving my house in fear that I’d never return to it, or knowing someone whose home burned down in the mountains near my house,” says Emily Szasz of Santa Cruz.

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