The West Coast Is Burning – Here's What You Can Do Right Now

What to know about the fires causing eerie orange skies across California and Oregon.

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Over the last week, photos out of California amid wildfire season show much of the state blanketed in a thick "apocalyptic" orange fog that drew comparisons to Blade Runner.

Though wildfires are nothing new, (California's wildfire season typically peaks from May to October), this year has seen an unprecedented season, with weather conditions linked to climate change. And it's not just California — according to CNN, at least five people have been killed in Washington state and Oregon this week amid a series of wildfires in addition to at least ten people who have died in northern California.

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Here's what you need to know about the fires — including how you can help.

What caused the fires?

Fires can be ignited in various ways, from untamed winds and kindling grass to human activity. In Southern California's San Bernardino County, a fire sparked by a pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party has burned more than 10,000 acres this week.

"California has a really flammable ecosystem," University of Colorado fire scientist Jennifer Balch told Associated Press. "People are living in flammable places, providing ignition, starting the wildfires against a backdrop of a warming climate that is making wildfires worse."

ABC7 meteorologist Mike Nicco reported that the orange skies in the Bay Area in California are due to smoke from the Bear Fire in Butte County, which has expanded across over 65,000 acres. The smoke, Nicco said, coupled with the marine layer — a stable area of air — helps continually pump in cleaner air from over the ocean, which turns the sky shades of orange and red.

How are they linked to climate change?

Wildfires aren't caused by climate change directly, but they can be aggravated by global warming's effects. The Climate Council in Australia has suggested wildfires in the country were exacerbated by record-breaking drought and heat.

Research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has also suggested 2020 will be one of the hottest years in recorded history, and California has gone through dangerous heatwaves in recent weeks, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees that can allow for fires to burn more powerfully.

In recent years, viral footage has come out during each fire season, but the bright chemical orange of the skies on the West Coast this year as ash rains onto cars parked outdoors — coupled with images of people dining outdoors, running, and otherwise trying to carry on amid the coronavirus — signals just how used we've become to having to adjust to life amid a pandemic and global climate crisis. What's more, as apocalyptic and movie-esque as these images seem, they're unfortunately very real, and they make clear that we can't keep ignoring climate change.

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"The fires across the West Coast are just the latest examples of the very real ways our changing climate is changing our communities," former President Barack Obama tweeted. "Protecting our planet is on the ballot. Vote like your life depends on it—because it does."

How can you help?

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  • The Red Cross Disaster relief and recovery fund helps support evacuation centers and recovery programs for affected communities. Donate here.
  • GlobalGiving has opened launched a California Wildfire Relied Fund. You can donate here.
  • United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley in Oregon has set up a Mid-Valley Wildfire Relief Fund. Donate here.
  • United Way Bay Area is taking donations to provide immediate aid and long-term recovery help. Donate here.
  • The Los Angeles County Fire Department Foundation is seeking help to support paramedics, firefighters, lifeguards and other personnel along with important community programs. You can donate here.
  • The California Fire Foundation's Supplying Aid to Victims of Emergency (SAVE) program provides $250 gift cards to eligible victims. You can donate here.
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