Record breaking wildfires ravage West Coast

Grace Clancy, Staff Writer

Over the past few months many fires have erupted along the West Coast, mainly in the areas of California, Oregon, and Washington. These fires are the worst this region has seen in the past 18 years. In August, lightning strikes started a number of fires and the warm temperatures and dry conditions have been an ongoing contribution in the continuation of the millions of acres being burned. With thousands of buildings and homes destroyed and more than two dozen lives lost, these wildfires have caused immense tragedy. These fires can as well be connected to the increase in climate change.

So far five million acres have been burned throughout the West Coast with 3.7 million being in California alone. 2020 has been the worst year in the state’s history when it comes to acres burned. The largest fire occurred in the August Complex in California, burning more than 850,000 acres. 2020 is the most active fire year for the West Coast with some of the largest fires recorded. Nearly 20% of these wildfires have occurred on land that burned in earlier fires. Along with the threat to homes and lives, the recurrence of fires on formerly damaged areas has put fragile ecosystems back at risk. 

As an ongoing result of the wildfires along the West Coast, immense amounts of smoke have been produced. It has led to an extreme decrease in air quality. Pollution has hit historic levels in multiple cities in California as well as Portland and Bend Medford. Millions along the West Coast have had to live underneath the thick smoke and in hazardous conditions for weeks. The hazardous smoke has been continuously traveling across the US even reaching the East Coast. Carried by the jet stream, the smoke has stayed in motion and moved across the Atlantic Ocean causing it to now reach Europe. 

California’s peak fire season usually runs until October but can continue further into the year. While some fires are still active, the size has decreased within the past week. In Oregon the air quality remains hazardous; however, the air in California has improved greatly.