Devastating Wildfires in the West

Preliminary numbers from government website Cal Fire show that over a million acres have been burned from January 1st of this year to August 30th of this year, with wildfires still burning. 


AP Photo/Noah Berger

Flames above vehicles on Highway 162 as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

It’s a common theme each year for horrendous wildfires to rip through thousands of acres in the western portion of the United States, and this year is unfortunately no different. However, the acreage burned by wildfires this year is far higher than last year. 

Over the same eight month timeframe last year, only 29,000 acres had been burned. This sharp increase can be attributed to many causes, including a drier climate this year in portions of the western US. According to the United States Drought Monitor, almost 25 percent of the state of Oregon is in the “Extreme Drought” category. No part of the state was in that category one year ago. 

The wildfires this year have been started primarily by humans. For example, a gender reveal party at which a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” was used started the El Dorado Fire, according to Cal Fire investigators. That fire has now grown to over 14,000 acres and is 44 percent contained. 

In June, Pacific Gas and Electric, the nation’s largest utility company, pleaded guilty to 84 felony charges of involuntary manslaughter for its power grid igniting the Camp Fire last year, which killed 84 people. 

While the wildfires are causing problems for those that live in several states in the western US, they are also having a global effect. Smoke from the wildfires has traveled thousands of miles and now covers a significant portion of the United States, including northern Illinois. The map below shows significant smoke coverage over the Midwest on Sept. 14th 2020. 

Sept. 14th Still image from a NASA simulation shows the potential for wildfire smoke to drift into nearly every state by late this week. (NASA)

The wildfires have also caused adverse effects in our environment, and may be to blame for thousands of deceased birds being discovered in New Mexico. The birds may have been forced into migration too early due to the wildfires, and they might not have had enough fat to survive the journey, according to biologists. 

Unfortunately, wildfires will only worsen, as drought conditions persist in the area. According to Cal Fire, the Creek Fire, which started on September 4th, is currently burning over 212 thousand acres and is only 16 percent contained.