California Fires: The Climate Disruption We Were Warned About

Image credit: Nevada Seismo Lab via The Sacramento Bee

As if the COVID pandemic wasn’t enough for Californians to deal with, the state is now seeing record-breaking heat waves, wildfires, and smoke. Los Angeles County saw its highest ever recorded temperature of 121 degrees Fahrenheit in Woodland Hills, with many other Californian cities surpassing old records. Riverside hit 117. Chino, 121. In Northern California, Sacramento smashed its previous high with a sweltering 109. This is the kind of climate disruption we’ve been warned about.

With the heat came an intensification of the fires already consuming parts of California. Two of the three largest fires in California’s history are now burning in the Bay Area. According to CalFire, on Sunday more than 2 million acres had burned through the state since the first of the year. This is the most the state has seen since it started keeping track in 1987. One fire which started in Fresno occurred because the heat was so intense it started its own thunderstorm! The storm’s rising column of air launched not only ash, but fire debris up to one foot in diameter. And we have a long way to go before the end of fire season.

Unusually strong winds have exacerbated the fires. They have also spread smoke throughout California and neighboring states, blanketing areas with ash. And ash is the last thing we need in a respiratory pandemic. Plus, where do people who have little access to air conditioning or air purification go to escape smoke, when smoke shelters are unsafe because of COVID-19?

Other states are also facing historic fires and levels of smoke. In parts of Oregon, smoke blanketed the skies, turning them an apocalyptic orange. One town in Washington lost 80 percent of its structures to fire. In Colorado, there was a wildfire filling the skies with smoke and ash one day, and the next there was snow on the ground with temperatures plunging more than 50 degrees.

Clearly, these freak weather conditions are not normal. Yet they’re only a glimpse of the hellish future we’re going to face if we don’t take climate change seriously. If we want an increase in extreme fire weather, more heat waves, and higher death tolls, we should sit back and watch the flames. But if we want to prevent this disastrous future, we must organize and fight back against the conditions that got us here in the first place. Together we can get rid of the capitalist system for good. Our lives, and the future of life on our planet, depend on it.