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US West Coast wildfires explained (2020)

US West Coast wildfires explained (2020)

The US West Coast is going through a very difficult time due to catastrophic wildfires especially ravaging the state of California.

Explaining how wildfires begin:

According to climate experts, harsh weather patterns and heat waves throughout the state was the cause behind California’s wildfires. The highest temperature in Death Valley (a desert valley in Eastern California) was 54°c. And, for the first time in two decades, the state experienced blackouts as people sought to cool down their houses, which stressed the power grids in the state.

At that point came a typhoon and lighting that prompted little flames over the Bay Area and California. Shortly the temperature decreased, and it became windy, carrying fires to other areas in the state and causing a lot of devastation and damage.

Officials have said that the California wildfire was sparked by a pyrotechnic firework used at gender-reveal party.

The party was reportedly planned by a couple expecting a child, to announce the gender of their child to their friends and relatives gathered at the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa. Local officials said they would wait until the fire was out before determining whether to press charges against the organizers of the party. They could be forced to offset the costs incurred in attempting to suppress the fires.

Devastation:

There were 28 major wildfires burning across the state as of September, 14. This includes the August Complex Fire, which started on Aug. 17 and has since burned over 471,000 acres, making it the largest fire on record in California.

Smoke particles are just the right size to scatter out blue light before it reaches your eyes, leaving behind yellows, oranges and reds.

west coast wildfires
Before and after photos show the Golden Gate Bridge in wildfire smoke.
Credits: Stephen Lam/Reuters

The suffocating heat wave, along with powerful seasonal winds, has left the West Coast extremely vulnerable to lightning strikes, sparking thousands of fires. Spread into Oregon, the fires have forced mass evacuations.

According to the National Interagency Fire Centre, these fires have destroyed a total of 4.5 m acres i.e an area greater than Connecticut and marginally less than Wales.

children after wildfires
Two children look at a burned bicycle after wildfires destroyed a neighborhood in Bear Creek, Phoenix. Credits: Reuters

As of 14 September, California has recorded at least 24 fatalities from these fires and thousands of residents are under evacuation orders, with more than 14,500 firefighters currently fighting the 28 major fires in the state.

According to IQAir.com, the smoke emissions from wildfires left Oregon’s largest city, Portland, with the worst air quality in the world.

skies after wildfires
The Bay Bridge under an orange sky caused by wildfire smoke.
Credits: Reuters

Investigation:

This month, a NASA aircraft armed with a powerful radar took to the sky, launching a research program to learn more about the wildfires that have scorched vast California regions. The flights are used to locate damaged buildings in the fires while also monitoring burn areas which could be at risk of landslides and debris flows in the future.

NASA's C-20A research aircraft
NASA’s C-20A research aircraft takes off with the UAVSAR instrument during an earlier flight from Edwards Air Force Base near Palmdale, California. Credits: NASA

Equipped with the Uninhabited Air Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) instrument, the C-20A jet began flights from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center near Palmdale, California, on Sept. 3.

The UAVSAR radar pod is attached to the aircraft’s bottom and is frequently flown over an area to measure tiny surface height adjustments (a few millimetres, or quarter inches) with incredible precision. Also, the smoke-penetrating instrument is particularly useful in tracking burn wounds, since radar signals bounce off vegetation in a somewhat different way than they do off freshly burned soil.

There has been a widespread debate of whether there were poor fire control measures or inadequate efforts to counter climate change that has been forecasted by our scientists from long.

According to BBC, nine of the ten warmest years have been recorded since 2005, and this week the UN warned that the five years from 2016 to this year are expected to be the hottest period ever recorded. Since 1900, both Oregon and California have warmed up by more than 1°c.

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