At this moment, much of the West Coast of the United States is under a constant cloud of smoke. What started as a series of out of control wildfires in California last month has continued to spread, leaving parts of the state as well as neighboring regions of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Arizona looking entirely unrecognizable. Fire weather warnings are ongoing across much of the region, according to the National Weather Service, and a significant amount of damage has already been done, with much more expected.
The August Complex, the fire that started this latest spout of flames, is officially the largest wildfire in California's recorded history. The fire, which has been burning since August, has destroyed more than 471,000 acres and continues to burn. Across the western states, it is believed that nearly three million acres of land have already been lost, according to the New York Times. The fires have claimed at least seven lives so far, despite evacuation efforts, and many fear that more lives have already been lost in rural towns that were nearly entirely consumed by the wildfires.
There is little indication that these fires will stop any time soon. Firefighting resources are stretched thin across the West Coast, and conditions in the region are unfortunately perfect for allowing the fire to continue. Much of these western states are expected to experience low humidity, high temperatures, and winds that can help the flames to quickly spread across dry areas. A weekend heat wave that passed through the region has not helped conditions, either.
The fires across the West Coast are devastating, forcing millions from their homes, blocking out the sun for many and creating an eerie red tint to the sky that looms over the course of the day. But the situation was also sadly predictable. Experts had warned that this year's fire season could be particularly catastrophic, fueled largely by human activity. Climate change has created the kinds of conditions needed to exacerbate and fan the flames of these wildfires, which can often be caused by human behavior in the first place. In California, one of the largest ongoing fires was the result of a pyrotechnic device used as part of a gender reveal party. Making matters worse this year was the coronavirus pandemic, which left many states short on resources and able-bodied individuals available to fight these fires. In California, the underpaid labor of incarcerated people is often relied upon to help fight these fires, but many of those who work on California's fire prison camps have been sidelined due to coronavirus.
While the fires that are currently burning across the West Coast can be explained, it doesn't make them any less devastating. Here is a look at what residents of California, Oregon, Washington, and other states throughout the region are dealing with.