The sky turned orange over San Francisco this week, as a wildfire crisis continues to take its toll on the West Coast. Now, hundreds of thousands in Washington, Oregon, and California have been compelled to evacuate their homes, including about one in every ten residents in Oregon.
At least 15 people have already died in the historic fires blazing through the West Coast, a crisis compounded by the ongoing threat of coronavirus and online misinformation. The flames have already consumed over 3 million acres in California, while claiming a million acres in Oregon, and destroying whole towns in the State of Washington.
“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state,” said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. Her state, which continues to reel from this summer’s civil unrest, may soon become a convergence point for two separate blazes, the Beachie Creek fire and the Riverside fire. Authorities fear that the two could soon merge in Portland’s suburbs.
Meanwhile, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency on Thursday night. In nearby Molalla, residents fled the disaster, packing highways as they drove away from the encroaching fires.
“Unfortunately, the water system is not yet giving us a reprieve,” Gov. Brown said at a news conference Thursday. Her office predicts about 500,000 Oregonians have already been impacted by evacuation orders. That’s because, as Gov. Brown explained, the winds are “creating unpredictable movement of the fires.”
“It will get worse before it gets better”
The flames alone are not the only safety threat. Thick smoke continues to shroud the coastline, and residents have faced days of hazardous air advisories. Some have also been warned about the potential of raining ash. Additionally, the National Weather Service warns that an immense cloud of smoke will descend over Washington State on Friday, creating unhealthy breathing conditions. “For Western Washington,” the service said, “it will get worse before it gets better.”
And as dozens of fires burn through California, officials warn that heavy smoke will combine with fog in many places, seriously reducing visibility. Following, California Governor Gavin Newsom pleaded with residents to take evacuation orders seriously. This wildfire season, he says, is unlike anything the state has ever witnessed.
“Six of the 20 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in 2020,” Newsom tweeted. “If you are asked to evacuate, please do so immediately.”