Dozens of wildfires have swept their way across swathes of the west coast of the United States over the past month, killing more than 30 people and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.
The August lightning sparked a number of fires, while hot temperatures and dry conditions fueled more fires.
Here’s a visual guide to what’s going on – a month after the state of emergency was declared in California.
Fires are breaking records
Wildfires are burning millions of acres in California, Oregon and other parts of the western United States, devastating cities and blanketing communities in thick smoke.
Scientists say the region’s wildfires are the worst in 18 years and have linked their increasing prevalence and intensity to climate change. However, US President Donald Trump has blamed poor forest management for the fires.
The plumes of smoke from the fires are so large that they swept across the United States and the Atlantic Ocean, swept away by the jet stream, and reached the skies of Europe.
NASA captured the high-altitude smoke and associated aerosols – particles in the air – as they headed east towards New York and Washington DC in the middle of last week.
By the end of last week, the smoke had reached northern Europe, according to scientists from the European Commission’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). It is planned to do it again in the next few days.
The fact that the fires emit so much pollution that one can detect thousands of miles away reflects “how devastating they have been in scale and duration,” says Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at CAMS.
CAMS data also shows that the fires are “significantly more intense” than the average for 2003-2019 and are the worst in 18 years.
NASA described a “perfect storm of weather factors” contributing to the “extreme burn” period. Record temperatures, unusually dry air and high winds – in addition to drought in some areas – have exacerbated the fires.
Vincent Ambrosia, of the forest fire research team of NASA’s Applied Earth Sciences program, said that these conditions, along with the “long-term drying and warming of air and vegetation “, Meant larger and higher intensity fires.
Some have estimated that the economic impact of this year’s fires could be more than $ 20 billion (£ 15.5 billion).
Learn more about fires:
Forest fires ravage California and Oregon
The United States National Interagency Fire Center said firefighters were fighting 106 large wildfires in the western United States, with above-normal burn levels in a number of states.
California and Oregon have seen some of the worst fires.
Most of the fires are in California, where fire officials said more than 17,000 firefighters were fighting more than 20 major fires.
And with no rain forecast, the state remains “dry and ripe for wildfires,” the state fire agency Cal Fire has warned.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state had 7,606 fires this year compared to 4,972 in 2019. And according to Cal Fire, five of the 20 largest fires in California history occurred in 2020. .
US Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon described the scene in his state as “apocalyptic,” with affordable housing, apartment buildings and shopping districts set on fire.
“It is overwhelming,” the Democratic senator told Reuters news agency.
The area of burnt land is immense
The fires devastated millions of acres.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 6.7 million acres (2.7 million hectares) have been burned this year, so far.
The August complex fire in Tehama County, Calif., Became the largest blaze on record in the state, covering more than 750,000 acres.
Lives in the region have been devastated
The fires devastated several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killing more than 30 people.
Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless or evacuated, and search teams continue to search the ruins of burned houses to locate the missing.
In Oregon, the Almeda fire has wreaked havoc since it began in the town of Ashland on September 8.
High winds drove the blaze northward through towns and communities along a 13-mile stretch of the N5 road.
In the town of Talent, Jackson County, businesses, homes and trailer parks were razed. Dozens of other properties have been destroyed in neighboring Phoenix.
A spokesperson for the fire department said 42,000 people in the area had been affected. Many lost their homes, while others had to be evacuated or were left without power.
High school teacher Tracy Koa has fled Talent with her partner, Dave Tanksle, as well as their 13-year-old daughter. They returned to find that their home and neighborhood had gone up in smoke.
“We knew he was gone,” she told Reuters. “But then you stop, and the devastation of every house, you think of every family and every situation and every burnt car, and there are just no words for it.
The air quality is so bad it’s off the scale
The states of Oregon, Washington and California experience some of the most unhealthy tunes on the planet, according to global air quality rankings.
In parts of Oregon, the air quality has been so dangerous that it has exceeded the scale of the state’s air quality index.
Pollution has reached historic levels in five of the state’s cities – Portland, Eugene, Bend, Medford and Klamath Falls, officials said this week.
The pollution caused by forest fires contains soot and other fine particles dangerous to human health, as well as harmful chemicals.
Residents who smell smoke or see mist are advised to take precautions against inhaling it and to keep abreast of local air quality warnings.
All the smoke also translates into significant carbon emissions, NASA says.
It already estimates that 2020 is the highest carbon year of fire emissions for California in its Global Fire Emissions Database, which dates back to 1997.
“Fire emissions this year far exceed annual totals for all other years, and it is only September 11,” said Douglas Morton, head of the NASA Goddard Biosphere Science Lab.
California’s peak fire season typically runs through October, but can continue until later in the year.