Raging Fires Set the Pacific Northwest in Flames


The numerous wildfires that have ignited across California have caused immense devastation to families, animals, and our environment. Image: The New York Times – Wildfire Map

Isabella Espinosa, Co-Editor-in-Chief


Wildfires have been a devastating part of our planet for millions of years. Wildfires destroy thousands of acres of land each year in the Amazon Rainforest, Australia, United States, Africa, and several other land masses around the world. To our dismay, a majority of wildland fires are caused by human error –  leaving campfires unattended, equipment & electrical malfunctions, burning debris, discarding cigarettes, or intentional acts of arson. Other miscellaneous factors include low-voltage, long, & hot lightning strikes. As the threat of climate change encroaches upon our planet, it worsens the spread and severity of wildfires. Throughout this month, California, Oregon, and Washington have experienced some of their worst wildfires on record. Although they are no stranger to wildfires, dry, strong winds and soaring temperatures have increased the intensity of the fires across the Pacific Northwestern states. Kate Brown, the governor of Oregon, warns that the fires “could be the greatest loss of life and property from wildfires in state history.” Without a doubt, the fires have caused immense devastation to families, animals, and our environment. 


Recent wildfires include the North Complex, Slater, Creek, Bobcat, Riverside, Beachie Creek, Lionshead, Almeda, Holiday Farm, Archia Creek, Cold Springs, and Pearl Hill fires. One particular fire, the Alameda fire in Jackson County, Oregon is being investigated as an intentional crime of arson with several men possibly responsible. The surrounding fire departments had warned about the increased risks of wildfires, but the suspected man-made fire only made matters worse by being the source of immense devastation. A second fire in Oregon, Sweet Creek was said to be set by an angry boyfriend who threatened to light the town of Mapleton on fire if his girlfriend broke up with him, even confessing to the act. Various other suspects have been investigated and arrested in relation to different fires within Oregon state. In Washington, another fire demolished 80% of buildings in a small Southern town, Malden. The fire began at 1:30pm on September 7 and engulfed a majority of the town within an hour, leaving its citizens and their quaint town devastated. Larry Frick, a resident of Malden, told NBC “I’ve never been in a war zone, but I would say that maybe this is what it’s like” remarking on how “everything around [him] is gone.” Frick said that the only building he can see from his home now is the town church –  a beautiful reminder that light and life still remain in a time of such darkness. While the Marion and Jackson counties in Oregon were hit the hardest, thousands of families were forced to evacuate in all three states, fleeing from the fires with dangerous air quality. Suburbs and rural areas right outside of Portland, Oregon were caught in the fires forcing several citizens to evacuate. In California, a huge lightning storm in the San Francisco Bay area and Santa Clara sparked some of the major fires. The state has been enduring some of its highest temperatures, with Death Valley hitting a record of 130 degrees fahrenheit. Vox interviewed Brice Bennett from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection who  pointed out that “with an already-warm weather pattern and very, very dry conditions…with those lightning strikes….over 367 new fires were started.” 

Image: Vox News; sourced from Justin Sullivan – A family watches the horror of the CA fires encroach upon farmland.

In early September, there was speculation about a gender reveal party in California inciting a massive fire that burned more than 10,000 acres of land near El Dorado Ranch Park. The couple had set off a smoke bomb with the simple intention of celebrating their new baby, but ended up causing a disastrous fire that forced over 20,000 people to evacuate their homes. This is surely not the first time a stunt similar to this one has occurred. At one point, the smoke and pollutants released from the fires caused California to have some of the dirtiest air quality in the world. Another factor that exacerbated the fires is the high humidity combined with record high temperatures formed clouds that produced dangerous amounts of wind, thunder, and lightning, but little rain. Climate change is evident in places like California, having their driest winter on record as well as being victim to immense loss of vegetation. Different areas in California aren’t normally set aflame by the annual wildfires, but humans planting dry & invasive plant species, attempting to control naturally-occurring fires, and allowing the accumulation of fuel in wildlands have created new areas of conflict. Several other towns and cities have been and continue to be affected by the fires. Surveying the damage has been difficult as accessing  some areas is made nearly impossible by the encroaching fires. Firefighters have been forced to take on new measures as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to tighten contact restrictions as well as cause a decline in workers. Firefighters must organize evacuations and shelters with the virus in mind, but the boiling temperatures and air quality also worsen the effects of its symptoms. 

Image: BBC; sourced from AirNow – Air Quality Index

The smoke from the fires has managed to move across the United States and the Atlantic Ocean with the jet stream, eventually reaching “the skies of Europe.” An image provided by BBC from NASA’s satellites shows the spread of the smoke and aerosols across North America. NASA’s research has shown how people nowhere near the fires have been exposed to pollutants such as carbon monoxide and smog. The smoke released from this burning contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrocarbons.. The small size of these particles is what gives them the ability to travel throughout the air and into our lungs so easily. These pollutants can cause burning eyes, runny noses, heart & lung disease, and even premature death.Beyond the devastating effects of the fires in the Pacific Northwest, the smoke and debris from the fires remain prevalent across the United States as they endanger the health and air quality of states far and wide. 


Without a doubt the wildfires have made matters worse during one of the toughest times our generation has ever  seen, but sharing quality information on current events and prevention strategies can improve the safety of our future generations as well as the safety of our planet. 


Impactful video of the Alameda fire from the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000007341513/oregon-fires-path.html

Graphics/maps showing the spread of the major fires: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/fires-map-tracker.html


Works Cited

Cline | AP, Gillian Flaccus and Sara. “Unprecedented Pacific Northwest Fires Burn Hundreds of Homes.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 9 Sept. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/national/unprecedented-pacific-northwest-fires-approach-portland/2020/09/09/4f130796-f2cb-11ea-8025-5d3489768ac8_story.html.

Howell, Elizabeth. “Smoke from US Wildfires Spreads across Country and into Europe.” Space.com, Space, 17 Sept. 2020, www.space.com/us-wildfires-smoke-spread-europe-canada.html.

Irfan, Umair. “What Makes California’s Current Major Wildfires so Unusual.” Vox, Vox, 21 Aug. 2020, www.vox.com/2020/8/21/21377181/california-wildfire-2020-scu-lnu-lightning-complex-climate-change.

Kaufman, Sarah, and Caroline Radnofsky. “’Everything around Me Is Gone’: Washington State Resident Recalls Saving Home from Labor Day Wildfire.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 10 Sept. 2020, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/everything-around-me-gone-washington-state-resident-recalls-saving-home-n1239728.

Kavanaugh , Shane Dixon. “Rash of Oregon Arson Cases Fuels Fear, Conspiracy Theories during Devastating Wildfires.” Oregonlive, 19 Sept. 2020, www.oregonlive.com/wildfires/2020/09/rash-of-oregon-arson-cases-fuel-fear-conspiracy-theories-during-devastating-wildfires.html.

Newcomb, Tim. “Wildfires Burn Throughout Pacific Northwest, Destroy Much of Washington Town.” Engineering NewsRecord RSS, Engineering News-Record, 9 Sept. 2020, www.enr.com/articles/50014-wildfires-burn-throughout-pacific-northwest-destroy-much-of-washington-town.

Shepherd, Katie. “A Gender-Reveal Stunt Sparked a California Wildfire That Has Forced 21,000 People to Evacuate.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 Sept. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/09/08/california-gender-reveal-fire/.

“Wildfire Causes and Evaluations (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2018, www.nps.gov/articles/wildfire-causes-and-evaluation.htm.