The Student News Site of Taipei American School




Deadly wildfires paint West Coast skyline orange


When will the calamities of 2020 end? This year seems to have it out for the United States, with recent fatal wildfires setting the West Coast ablaze and forcing evacuation in many areas. 
The fires have affected California, Oregon, and Washington the most heavily, as tens of thousands of residents are under evacuation warnings or orders to leave. In Oregon alone, more than 40,000 people have been evacuated already. This has created ghost towns out of many small neighborhoods and towns, leaving them even more eerily silent than the effects of COVID-19 (coronavirus) quarantine measures. 
However, many individuals and families were unable to evacuate in time, with the death toll rising to 31 across the three states. Dozens of people have also been injured or gone missing while trying to evacuate their homes. 
The smoke pollution from the fires have left many major cities with the worst air quality in decades. Portland, Oregon currently has the worst air quality in the world, followed by San Francisco and Seattle. The air quality index reading over the weekend in Salem, the state capital of Oregon, was 512; the scale normally goes from zero to 500. 
The COVID-19 global pandemic also adds another factor to the severe effects of the wildfires, with the suffocating smoky air threatening the health of people already struggling through the pandemic. The hurried evacuations have also broken quarantine guidelines, forcing people to come in contact with others while trying to find shelter.  
Images and drone footage show sweeping destruction, with millions of acres of land charred and houses completely obliterated into pieces. The videos also show the surreal red and orange haze hanging over the skyline, almost like an oversaturated filter. 
The main cause of the fires is unclear, as political controversy surrounds the issue. Climate experts have long warned about the cascade effect of climate change, especially in California where wildfires rage throughout the year but never at this scale. 
Most political figures have come in agreement that the dire consequences of climate change have been ignored for too long and arrived in full force, as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington state recognize the fires as an effect of global warming. However, President Trump continues to blame poor forest management over the decades as the main contributor to the severity of the wildfires. 
Many of the fires have also been under investigation for potential arson, with one man in Oregon under arrest after claims were made that he started part of one of the most destructive fires, the Almeda Fire, which destroyed much of Phoenix, Oregon. 
The state governments are hoping that better weather in the coming weeks will soothe the wildfires, but there is undoubtedly still a lot of work ahead to not only go on the offensive front against the fires instead of just doing damage control, but also to restore the heavily devastated areas of the West Coast and return residents to safety. One thing is clear: 2020 is continuing to throw obstacles of historic proportions from different directions, only pushing us further and further away from normal.

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