The U.S. West Coast is burning, and it’s still not under control. There are now three states — California, Washington state and Oregon — battling raging wildfires, which have left a trail of destruction in their wake and, in some cases, have literally changed the colour of the sky.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate in these areas, and there have been at least 15 deaths so far, with that number unfortunately expected to rise in the coming days. The fires are being fuelled by factors such as record-breaking heat waves, drought and, of course, climate change. Some West Coast leaders, in fact, have suggested that we shouldn’t use the term “wildfires” to describe the crises, but rather “climate fires.”
Sometimes you have to see things to believe them. That said, in case you needed another reason to take climate change seriously, here it is.
1 Million Acres
In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown said that wildfires in the state had consumed more than 1 million acres of land, according to the New York Times. Brown also revealed that as a result, the state had the worst air quality in the world.
“Almost anywhere in the state you can feel this right now,” she said.
10% of Oregon Has Been Ordered to Evacuate
Roughly 10% of Oregon’s population has been told to evacuate because of the wildfires. In a news conference Friday, Gov. Brown said that dozens of people were unaccounted for. State emergency officials, per CNN, said that they were preparing for a “mass fatality incident.”
Asking for Help Around the Country
On Thursday, Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office for Emergency Management, said that the intense number of fires had “tapped out” the state’s resources and that it was reaching out to other emergency management agencies across the country for help. Phelps praised Oregon’s firefighters and emergency management community in a statement.
“Their efforts, stamina and response are nothing short of heroic,” he said.
Newsom Criticises Trump’s Environmental Policies
Meanwhile, in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged to do more to fight climate change and criticised the Trump administration for enacting policies that reduce environmental protections, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“People that want to roll back vehicle emission standards so you could spend more money at the pump and produce more greenhouse gas emissions, to create more of what you see around me — it’s beyond the pale of comprehension,” Newsom said. “We’re fighting against that and will prevail as long as more people come to this cause.”
“This Is a Climate Damn Emergency.”
Newsom warned that California would not be alone in its woes, and that states across the country could begin to see similar crises. He also stated that he had spoken to President Donald Trump about the fires and said that Trump had been “proactive” about providing aid to California.
“This is a climate damn emergency,” the California governor said. “This is real and it’s happening.”
Not “Wildfires,” but “Climate Fires.”
In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee stated that the wildfires decimating the West Coast should be called “climate fires.” About 2,305 of land burned in Washington in the past five days, Inslee said, per the AP. The crisis is one of the state’s worst incidents on record.
“This is not an act of God,” Inslee said. “This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways.”
Seattle’s Air Is Hazardous
One example of the effects of Washington’s wildfires could be seen in Seattle. In recent days, the state’s Department of Ecology declared that the air in Seattle was “hazardous.” This classification has far-reaching consequences. It means, for instance, that people with heart and lung disease should consider leaving the area. In addition, the Seattle Times reported that everyone should stay indoors.
A Lingering Challenge
Finally, it’s important not to forget the first responders that are on the front lines fighting this crisis, which are facing an important challenge: lack of personnel. There are simply not enough firefighters. Just a month ago, firefighters from Oregon and Washington rushed to help contain the fires in Northern California, the New York Times reported. Now, however, they have their own fires to contain.