West Coast wildfires reach a grim milestone this week

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ANAHEIM – The West Coast continues to burn. Despite firefighters managing to get a number of fires under containment and the ashy haze has lifted from many areas, there are still dozens of active fires from central California up into Oregon and Washington.

Fire map September 27, 2020 – Image credit: Phoenix7777 – Data source: MODIS Active Fire Detections for CONUS (2020), Geospatial Technology and Applications Center, U.S. Forest Service, USDAShapefile: Map: Open Street Map, CC BY-SA 4.0,

There are 23 active wildfires in California alone. Temperatures remain warmer than usual heading into October as this wildfire season sets all the wrong records. Highs range from the mid-80s in the Pacific Northwest to the upper 90s and even low 100s in Southern California even in the second week of October.

Wildfires still rage from Washington’s border with Canada on down to California’s border with Mexico. Significant portions of California remain under unhealthy air advisories. Many are still directly affected by the wildfires and evacuations, millions are suffering and experiencing respiratory distress while the pandemic continues.

This year’s wildfire season in California has now far surpassed all previous seasons on record. On October 4, California documented it’s first year ever on record with over 4 million acres burned, more than double the previous ‘worst’ of 2 million acres. Over 17,000 firefighters are still actively working in California. Mid-September saw over 5,600 firefighters working to contain the Oregon wildfires.

The August Complex Fire in Northern California has now been dubbed a “gigafire,” a terrible distinction. Well over 1 million acres have burned, and it is still only 58% contained at this time. It has burned for 51 days and is the biggest wildfire in California history. The August Complex Fire has spread into 7 different counties, and a number of communities are still on alert for possible evacuation.

Two other massive fires, the LNU Complex and the SCU Complex, are now nearly 100% contained, which is a little good news as crews are forced to turn their attention northward. Several other fires have cropped up in the last couple weeks, but have been quickly contained.

Then there is the Glass fire in the Napa Valley, which started on September 27, and burnt so fast initially, that it was consuming an acre of land every five seconds, and tripled in size to consume over 36,000 acres in just 24 hours. As of yesterday evening, the Glass fire was still only 54% contained and had damaged or destroyed 20 wineries and over 67,000 acres of land.

In a separate incident, over a dozen firefighters assigned to fight the Glass fire were evaluated for carbon monoxide exposure that occurred off-site from the fire site and base camp, and while the firefighters were on 24 hour rest period.

It was unclear from media reports exactly where the exposure happened, but it prompted a warning from Cal Fire spokesman, Robert Foxworthy, “When we move into the winter and people start to use their heaters and have gas fire heaters running in the homes and possibly cooking and barbecues in an enclosed area, those are some of the ways you can get carbon monoxide poisoning.”

One of the firefighters affected was sent to the hospital for further treatment, and the other 15 were cleared to return to the fire lines.

An incredibly hot summer which includes California’s hottest August on record, along with dry brush and lightning storms with no precipitation created a nightmare scenario for wildfire crews.

Oregon also battled several fast-merging fires and still has nine active fire with 971,579 acres burnt.

W.I.T.C.H. PDX, a group which has been a constant fixture not just at the more recent protests this year on behalf of George Floyd and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement but also in previous years in support of indigenous rights and immigrants, brought in van loads of supplies for residents in Clackamas County who were affected by the wildfires. A spokesperson for W.I.T.C.H. PDX informed an NPR reporter that the group collected and brought in supplies simply because they “saw a need.”

While the W.I.T.C.H. PDX website appears to be down currently, the W.I.T.C.H. Boston website is functional and features a quote from W.I.T.C.H. PDX as to the fundamental nature of the group:

The figure of the witch is a powerful symbol. Though most iconic in the popular imagination as a dramatic silhouette with a pointed hat and black garments, a witch can be anyone. Witches are not just from Europe, and don’t just practice Wicca. We exist in a broad range of cultures and traditions (and in fact, black and indigenous witches have historically been persecuted by witch hunts more than anyone else.)

W.I.T.C.H. has a long history of supporting intersectional feminism, upholding indigenous and immigrant rights, and protesting for workers’ rights and against disenfranchisement, among many other things. They are distinctive at protests because members maintain their anonymity, and often wear black clothes or costumes and face coverings, as well as pointy “witch” hats. Their members are non-violent and believe in working within their own communities to support and uphold community members, while also calling out racism, discrimination, and patriarchal oppression.

Numerous groups have been collecting donations and assisting those affected by the wildfires, offering services, supplies, and even temporary housing. Another prominent group seen at the Portland protests, PDX EWOKS, also gathered supplies for anyone who needs assistance, as well as offering crisis support, on-site medics, and PPE.

Fire tornado – Image credit: Katelynn & Jordan Hewlett, APCC BY-SA 4.0

Some of the largest fires have even generated their own weather systems, spawning fire tornadoes like the one pictured above that occurred east of Loyalton, California, and west of Cold Springs, Nevada on August 16, 2020.

California, Oregon, and Washington combined have seen well over 5 million acres burned this year alone. Currently, at least 35 people have died as a result of the wildfires.