Wildfires continue to burn across US west coast as smoke reaches Europe

By Miranda Bryant

Forecast for rain in Pacific north-west prompts hopes of improved firefighting conditions as Newsom says: ‘The facts are the facts’

As wildfires continued to burn across America’s west coast, with smoke reaching as far as Europe, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, issued a stark warning on climate, saying: “The facts are the facts.”

Forecast rain for the Pacific north-west prompted hopes on Thursday of improved fire fighting conditions in Washington state and Oregon, parts of which have been decimated and swathed in the world’s worst air quality.

During a briefing on Wednesday, Newsom described the fires as a “human activity-induced, climate-induced wildfire season” and called on government officials at every level to take action in tackling the issues behind the unprecedented infernos that have burned as much as 5m acres from southern California to northern Washington state.

Average temperatures between June and September in California, which is currently battling 25 different fires in which at least 25 people have died, have risen roughly 3F in four decades, he said.

“You see that trend-line, that is not going in the right direction. That only underscores our urgency to address head on the issue of climate and climate change and to double down on our efforts here in the state of California.”He added: “We need to reconcile that the fact there are no democrat thermometers and there are no republican thermometers, there’s fact and there’s reality as well as observed evidence. It’s not a belief system. It’s an acknowledgement. The facts are the facts.” He said he made it “crystal clear” with both the Republican president, Donald Trump, and the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, in their visits to California earlier this week, that everybody needs to take “mutual responsibility”.

So far the fires across California, Washington state and Oregon have destroyed record acreage and killed at least 34 people. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated and displaced and thousands of homes destroyed.

David Roth, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said there was rainfall expected in parts of Oregon on Thursday and Friday, but that because of “burn scars” caused by the fires, it could lead to flooding and debris or mud flows and that flash flood watches were in place. He added that next week, heavier rains are forecast for north-west Oregon on Wednesday or Thursday.

Trees are seen damaged during. the aftermath of the fires in Clackamas county, near Molalla, Oregon, on 16 September.
Trees are seen damaged during. the aftermath of the fires in Clackamas county, near Molalla, Oregon, on 16 September. In Oregon, at least eight people have died and an additional 12 people are missing. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

In California, where 3.3m acres of the state have been burned since the start of the year, the conditions offered no respite. “With no significant precipitation in sight, California remains dry and ripe for wildfires,” Cal Fire said on Wednesday.In excess of 17,000 firefighters are tackling more than 24 large fires – the deadliest of which is the North Complex, which has killed at least 15 in the last 10 days and burned more than 273,000 acres. On Wednesday it was 36% contained, according to Cal Fire.

The state’s largest ever fire, the August Complex, in Northern California, has destroyed more than 800,000 acres and is 30% contained.

At least 4,200 structures have been destroyed in the state and over 38,000 people are under evacuation.Smoke conditions and visibility were getting better in places, with reports of blue skies emerging. The Bay Area National Weather service tweeted: “There’s still smoke in parts of northern and interior #California but parts of the #SanFrancisco area are FINALLY seeing blue skies – and it is not being taken for granted.” But drifting smoke prompted the National Weather Service to issue a dense smoke advisory in Nevada until late Thursday morning, with residents in Lake Tahoe advised to stay indoors.

In Oregon, at least eight people have died and an additional 12 people are missing. A federal disaster declaration has been approved, but state officials are urging the federal government to declare the wildfires a public health emergency.

“This decision will make more Federal aid available to the State and provide resources needed for our communities to rebuild,” tweeted the Oregon representative Peter DeFazio. Meanwhile, smoke from the fires has reached as far as Mexico, Canada and Europe. Scientists said on Wednesday that satellite images showed it had traveled almost 5,000 miles to the UK.