Lightning storm, easterly wind: How the wildfires got so bad
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — It began as a stunning light show on a mid-August weekend — lightning bolts crackling in the skies over Northern and Central California, touching down in grasslands and vineyards.
The National Weather Service warned that the dry lightning striking a parched landscape “could lead to new wildfire.”
It turned out to be a huge understatement. Thousands of bolts ignited hundreds of fires in California and at least one in Oregon, setting the stage for some of the most destructive wildfires the West Coast states have seen in modern times.
One month later, firefighters are still battling them, and at least 34 people have died in California, Oregon and Washington.
“What really was jaw dropping for people was the fact that this really changed the paradigm that people have in terms of their sense of security,” said Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Jim Gersbach. “These burned so close to populated areas, driven by this wind — basically unstoppable.”
The massive wildfires renewed a longstanding debate over whether climate change or a lack of aggressive forest management played the bigger role this time around. Numerous studies have found that a warming Earth, which leads to higher temperatures and dryer landscape, increases the likelihood of extreme events and contributes to their severity. But many experts have also argued that more needs to be done to thin forests and reduce debris so that flames have less fuel.
Before the cluster of lightning strikes, the West’s fire season had been slightly more severe than normal. In Oregon, officials had decided to not let fires grow, ordering that even small blazes be smothered quickly by aircraft, so throngs of firefighters wouldn’t be needed and potentially spread the coronavirus, Gersbach...