WEST COAST WILDFIRES: The Connection to Climate Change

Article by Aarushi Jain, Rachel Gerhardt, and Sophia Delrosario

Blood red skies, falling ash, and an unbearable, suffocating heat paints an apocalyptic scene for millions of residents on the West Coast. Wildfires have spread across three million acres of California, and the connection between the fires and the global warming crisis is more apparent than ever.

California, Washington state and Oregon have been the hardest hit by the blazes, fueled by heat waves and windy conditions. Oregon’s governor said “this could be the greatest loss of human life and property” to fires in state history. Some residents have watched their entire town burn to the ground, and some have family members who are still missing.

BY THE NUMBERS

  • 3.5 million acres burned in the fires
  • 17 people dead
  • 130 degrees Fahrenheit in California
    • *may be highest ever recorded in state history
  • Winds up to 45 mph (72 km/h)
  • 500,000 people evacuated in Oregon
  • 6 out of 20 of California’s largest wildfires in history have happened in 2020
  • 28,000 firefighters were assigned to fight wildfires

Blazing fires flood across the United States Western Coast. With nearly 100 fires spreading voraciously, the mainstream news is quick to report on the amount of destruction the fires are causing. Rightfully so, the National Interagency Fire Agency estimated that about 3.4 million acres have been burned so far, with winds up to 45 mph (72 km/h). Towns in Oregon are burning down, causing mass panic and mass evacuation. California has 24+ fires burning, with 3 being top 5 largest ever. Over 2.3 million acres scorched and 11 deaths reported in the last month. Washington’s winds are spreading the fires easily, with over 337,000 acres burnt down so far in the short time the fires have been ablaze. 

The Effect of Climate Change on Wildfires

With all of these statistics and various locations, it can be confusing to understand how they are all connected, but they do all have one key contributor: global warming. The chance of a wildfire happening depends on a variety of factors; temperature, soil moisture and presence of ‘fuel’ (trees, shrubs, etc). All of these have a relationship with climate change, whether that be indirect or direct. For example, we see the amount of fires doubling from 1984 to 2015 which directly correlates with the increase of warmer, drier conditions which enable these fires to burn longer. The temperatures in forests along the West Coast have increased by over 600% in some areas which explains the increase in amounts of fires. As the temperature continues to rise in these locations, combing with California’s 20-year drought, we will continue to see this upwards trend of wildfire increase.

The very reason for the rising in temperatures and drier conditions is due to the waste products of fossil fuels in the earth’s atmosphere.

Climate change has led to the melting of ice caps, massive storms, floods, and health disasters. Hotter and drier summers and droughts add to the fuels available to burn, and these high temperatures dry out forests, where lightning or pyrotechnical devices can cause disasters such as the wildfires. While climate change was not the DIRECT cause of these wildfires, its influence is evident. If we don’t start being conscious or if politicians don’t start taking action, the effects on our future could be catastrophic.

“Warmer temperatures dry the fuels, and all you need from there is a spark.”

-Park Williams , via New York Times

The scene in California, Oregon, Washington, and several other states is a snapshot of America’s future. Climate change is here, and it’s real.


DONATE

American Red Cross

Entire communities and families have been left reeling from these deadly wildfires. Help people affected by the California wildfires by visiting redcross.org, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS or texting the word CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters.

California Fire Foundation

“The California Fire Foundation provides critical support to victims, firefighters, and communities affected by wildfire and disaster throughout California.” – via http://www.cafirefoundation.org

Wildfire Relief Fund

“Today, approximately 14,000 firefighters remain on the line of 29 major wildfires burning across California. Although 37 new fires were sparked yesterday, crews contained most of them quickly though two have grown to large wildfires.” – via calfund.org

Supplying Aid to Victims of Emergency (SAVE)

“The California Fire Foundation’s Supplying Aid to Victims of Emergency (SAVE) program brings immediate, short-term relief to victims of fire and other natural disasters throughout California.” – via cafirefoundation.org

California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund

Today, approximately 14,000 firefighters remain on the line of 29 major wildfires burning across California. Although 37 new fires were sparked yesterday, crews contained most of them quickly though two have grown to large wildfires.

Solano Disaster Relief Fund

The Solano Disaster Relief Fund was established to support relief and recovery efforts for those affected by fire disaters in Solano County.  Grants from this Fund will help partnering organizations provide direct services, resources, and financial assistance to individuals and families in their communities.

FOR THOSE THAT LIVE IN THE AREA

If you live in the areas affected by the wildfires such as California, Oregon, and Washington, here are links to donate food, open up your homes, volunteer your time and expertise, and more


Sources

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/09/11/wildfire-updates-oregon-evacuations-california-deaths/3467271001/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54097598#:~:text=Western%20US%20states%20are%20battling,heat%20waves%20and%20windy%20conditions

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/11/the-future-has-arrived-these-explosive-fires-are-our-climate-change-wakeup-call

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/11/us/wildfires-live-updates.html

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/563422/california-wildfire-victims-how-to-help

https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/11/weather/western-wildfires-climate-change-future/index.html

https://www.c2es.org/content/wildfires-and-climate-change/

Photos from Unsplash

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