Wildfires on the west coast have been an issue for years now, but things are getting progressively worse. This year, California has already seen a record amount of acreage burned down, and it's still only September. More than 10% of Oregon’s population is currently under evacuation order.
As towns burn down and smoke engulfs the entire coast so heavily it can be seen from space, it’s no longer arguable whether or not this is an issue of climate change.
What’s causing the increase in wildfires?
If you look at the short-term factors, there’s a variety of contributors creating the perfect storm. For these fires to start, it takes three ingredients: heat, dry fuel, and ignition. Climate change caused by humans is feeding all three.
As the Arctic is warming at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world, it’s slowing down the jet stream (a powerful river of winds that affects weather systems), causing it to be wavy. This wavy pattern causes extreme weather, which is amplified by climate change.
This August, we saw a record-breaking heat wave in California, a devastating derecho in the Midwest, and the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth (130 degrees) in Death Valley. Six states all had their warmest August on record - Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. California experienced a lightning outbreak of nearly 12,000 strikes in one week. Then intense winds came in and wrecked serious havoc.
Heat waves are now 3-4 degrees warmer than they were decades ago. They’re also at their driest. Years of fire suppression led to heavy growth in trees and brush, creating masses of available fuel. Higher day and nighttime temperatures, decreased rainfall and droughts have all led to the “moisture deficit” of the West.
It also doesn’t help that we’ve Increased settlement of people in fire-prone lands. We continue to build and rebuild communities in very flammable places. Not a great idea, and not approved by our bear friend, Smokey.
While most of us can't be on the ground fighting fire, there are many ways you can step up to help your fellow West Coasters.
Here’s a few ways you can help, right now:
- Offer a room in your home to evacuees
Hundreds of thousands of residents in California, Oregon, and Washington have lost their homes or have been forced to evacuate. If you have extra space, offer a free room on a platform such as AirBnb.
- Volunteer with the Red Cross
The Red Cross takes financial donations and also accepts volunteers to help with wildfire relief in Washington, Oregon, and California.
- Volunteer with World Central Kitchen
World Central Kitchen was founded by chef José Andrés. This company makes meals for first responders and families who’ve been evacuated. If you have cooking experience, that’s welcomed, but they also train their cooks on the line.
- Donate personal hygiene supplies to Project Beauty Share
This company collects and distributes personal care products to those in need. Consider donating everyday items like toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, and deodorant.
- Provide a temporary home or transportation to displaced animals
Nonprofits such as the Volunteers for the Emergency Management of Animals Network (VEMAnet) are helping to find safe homes for farm animals and pets.
- Speak up about climate change
Contact your local representatives to enact policy reform to address these important issues. You can also share your concern and educate yourself on fire safety with Keep Oregon Green.
The right to vote is one of the most important pillars of our democracy. Although climate change is not a debate, it is unfortunately a bipartisan issue. Make sure your voice is heard by ensuring that your vote is counted come this November.
- Donate financial support
See below for a short list of nonprofits that are aiding relief efforts and working to combat climate change.
Relief funds and charities to donate to:
“The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”
“The Coalition for Clean Air protects public health, improves air quality,and prevents climate change.”
“Direct Relief is a humanitarian aid organization, active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies – without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay.”
“Ecotrust advances social equity, economic opportunity, and environmental well-being for all.”
“With donations made to this fundraiser, GoFundMe.org, the nonprofit and charitable arm of GoFundMe, will issue grants to individuals, organizations, and communities that have either been impacted themselves or are dedicated to helping those affected by wildfires.”
“Working to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas pollution at scale, starting in California.”
Feature Image by Josh Edelson/ Getty Images