The West Coast is on fire right now. Record-shattering wildfires have been raging across California, Oregon, and Washington for weeks. Caused by an extreme heatwave, the fires have burned 3.9 million acres of land, destroyed over 3,000 homes, and killed 30 people. According to CNN, they are still weeks away from a potential end.
The raging flames are a glaring reminder of the catastrophic magnitude of the climate crisis. They are also a reminder to vote. In the first Presidential debate, Donald Trump was asked by moderator Chris Wallace whether "human pollution [and] greenhouse gas emissions" contribute to global warming. Trump replied with a dig at Californian forest management. "I think, to an extent, yes. But I also think we have to do better management of our forests. If that was cleaned, if that were - if you had forest management, good forest management, you wouldn't be getting those calls."
Here’s everything you need to know about the crisis, and how you can help those who are currently being affected.
What’s causing the wildfires?
High temperatures, dry conditions, lightning, paired with strong winds that fuel the flames means that California is particularly susceptible to wildfires. But often, the blame lies with us. In general, 95% of fires in the state are caused by human activity: The El Dorado Fire in Southern California's San Bernardino County, which has scorched 10,574 acres, was sparked mid-September by a pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party.
What about climate change?
Indeed, climate change and global warming are at the root of the problem. Rising temperatures are causing fires to become more common and severe. The area affected by wildfires in California has increased by 500 percent since the '70s, and it's only getting worse.
According to UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, due to human-caused climate change, temperature extremes are climbing higher, meaning the vegetation is drier, which affects fire behavior. Despite the shocking impact of the wildfires, Swain doesn't expect conditions to improve soon for California and other Western states. "Climate change has not just made the extreme heat waves that coincided with the fires worse. The bigger effect is the more subtle, long-term warming," he said.
California Governor Gavin Newsom echoed this concern. “CA has invested more in wildfire prevention than any time in our history. But it’s not enough. We need action at EVERY level. CA cannot do this alone," he wrote on Twitter.
How can you help?
There are several funds where you can donate to help victims of the wildfires and help support the thousands of firefighters putting their lives on the line.
The United Way of Northern California offers emergency grants to those who have lost their homes as a result of the fires.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department is also accepting donations to support firefighters and paramedics who are on the frontline.
You can also help those affected by donating to Save the Children, whose emergency response team and local program staff are mobilizing to deliver critical emergency relief supplies to children and families in Central Valley, California, and southern Washington.
Former President Barack Obama has also issued an important reminder that the best way to enact real change in the fight against climate change is to make your voice count in the coming elections. Taking to Instagram he wrote, "the fires across the west coast are just the latest examples of the very real ways our changing climate is changing our communities. Protecting our planet is on the ballot. Vote like your life depends on it — because it does."