West Coast Wildfire Smoke Drifts to East Coast
How bad are the 90 wildfires currently engulfing the West Coast region? Suffice it to say the smoke has drifted all the way to New England – some 3,000 miles away.
Even worse, the fires have now killed at least 36 people. Including 25 in California. More than 20 people in Oregon are unaccounted for. Tens of thousands have evacuated their homes.
Approximately 4.6 million acres of land has burned. In California, Oregon, Washington and seven other states. Temperatures that have been 10 to 20 degrees above normal for this time of year have led to an elevated fire risk.
As have dry conditions and low humidity. One West Coast governor said the only moisture in his state was the tears of people who have lost homes in the fires. Making matters even more dangerous, high winds were predicted for late last week.
Most Unhealthy Air Quality on the Planet
Smoke from the wildfires has caused hazy skies in the Plains and the Midwest. Plus Virginia, New Jersey, New York and into New England.
Some people out for their morning walks have been able to look directly at the sun. Without it hurting their eyes. That’s how thick the smoke is.
The smoke has produced some interesting looking sunrises and sunsets. But it is also resulting in health problems for those breathing it.
Measurements have revealed something astonishing. The smoke is giving some areas in the U.S. the most unhealthy air quality on the planet.
Large sections of Oregon and Washington state are experiencing hazardous air quality. The same is true in British Columbia, Canada.
The Great Indoors
Residents in some places have been advised to stay indoors due to poor air quality. Including in Portland and Salem, Oregon. Many recent emergency room visits in Oregon have been for asthma-like symptoms.
The 7 million residents of California’s Central Valley have also been warned. They’ve been told not to venture outdoors. The Oregon Convention Center is being used as a shelter for those suffering from the smoke.
Smoke advisories and air quality alerts have been issued throughout the Northwest. As well as in California, the Northern Rockies and the Great Basin region. Cloth masks being worn due to COVID-19 are of little help when it comes to the smoke.
At least one airline temporarily suspended flights from Spokane, Washington to Portland. Due to visibility issues.
Breathe at Your Own Risk
In several states, United States Post Offices are being temporarily closed. They include California, Oregon and Washington.
This is happening prior to the November presidential election. Just when election officials are preparing for historic levels of voting by mail.
Of more immediate concern is the health condition of those breathing in the polluted air.
Firefighters are especially susceptible to smoke inhalation. But anyone living in the vicinity of these fires – and some outside those areas – is at risk.
A Huge Economic Hit
Estimates of damages and loss from the fires are between $130-$150 billion.
That’s according to AccuWeather CEO Joel Myers. He said those kinds of numbers are usually reserved for catastrophes such as a Category 4 or 5 hurricane.
Losses include homes and places of work. Plus agricultural and infrastructure damage. As well as car and job losses, and power outages.
In some areas, looters are trying to take advantage of the situation. Law enforcement is urging residents not to take the law into their own hands.
Blaming – and Thanking – Trump
Jay Inslee is the governor of Washington state. He has called his state’s fires “apocalyptic.” In an open letter to Donald Trump, Inslee blamed the president for the situation.
He wrote, “Your refusal to address climate change… will accelerate devastating wildfires like those you’re seeing today.”
California Governor Gavin Newsome thanked Trump for federal help the state has received to combat the blazes.
“I want to thank you and acknowledge the work you have done to be immediate in your response,” Newsome said. He, Trump and others participated in a roundtable discussion. For the purpose of discussing the dire situation.
Climate Change or Poor Management?
Inslee, Newsome and other West Coast officials have claimed that climate change is the reason for the increase in wildfires.
“We feel very strongly that the hots are getting hotter, the dry spells are getting dryer,” Newsome said.
Trump has responded that the cause is poor forest management. He suggested cleaning forest floors and using controlled burns.
Newsome compared breathing the air in California to smoking 20 packs of cigarettes. But he admitted his state’s forest management has been lacking. “We acknowledge our role and response,” he said.
Wildfires Growing in Number and Intensity
Whatever is causing wildfires on the West Coast, there is no debate that they are getting worse.
There were 43 recorded wildfires in California from 1980 to 1999, but 300 from 2000 to 2019.
Oregon recorded no significant wildfires from 1980 to 1999, but had 63 over the past 20 years.
The three costliest fires in U.S. history have all occurred in the last three years. Each happened in California. That’s according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Wildfires are out of control in the U.S. That won’t change anytime soon. No matter where you live, do whatever you can to make sure the air you breathe is as clean as possible.