The West Coast wildfires of the past few weeks are unprecedented in number and scale. In California, more than five million acres of forest have burned—the most ever in a single season, and it’s only mid-September. The state’s largest fire in its history, the August Complex, has burned almost a million acres on its own. Over Labor Day weekend, a Los Angeles County thermometer registered 121 degrees, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the region.
On September 9, Oregon governor Kate Brown gave a dire press conference, calling her state’s fires a “once in a generation” event. By September 16, more than 900,000 acres had burned. Worse, at least ten Oregonians had died, and dozens more were missing. Brown predicted a “mass casualty” event. Tens of thousands of Oregonians have evacuated as the fires push closer to Portland. The parking lot of a large mall, down the street from where I grew up, is now a shelter space. Churches and charities call for diapers, wheelchairs, and prepacked food. Small towns—Detroit, Phoenix, Talent—have been destroyed. In Washington state, 333,000 acres burned over twenty-four hours: more than double the area that had burned the entire previous year.
Some of these fires can be blamed on chance, recklessness, or malice. In Northern California, freak pre-dawn lightning storms started the LNU and SCU Complex fires—the state’s second- and third-largest blazes ever."
In Southern California, colored pyrotechnics from a gender-reveal party set off the El Dorado Fire. One of Oregon’s fires, the Alameda, appears to have been started by arson. There’s no proof that this was politically motivated, despite rumors that antifa is responsible. Political tensions, exacerbated by Portland’s months of protest, are running high. Militias organize to protect their towns; politicians from elsewhere create confusion. Police insist that looting has been minimal, but these official announcements don’t seem to do much. Everyone is scared; we’ve never seen anything like this.