West Coast Forest Fires
Escalating Infernos Fueled by Climate Change

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From a reader:

As I write this, more than 100 fires, unprecedented in size and ferocity, are burning across 12 Western states. In Oregon, a 36-mile-wide wall of flames is advancing into the towns around Portland. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate.

On Wednesday, September 9, in large parts of the region there was no daylight and the sky glowed orange because of the smoke. The National Weather Service warned that the smoky conditions were “beyond the scope of our models.” Toxic smoke spread hundreds of miles beyond areas directly burning. At least 17 people have died, and many more are missing. Whole towns have been reduced to rubble. All this is taking place as the fire season, which usually runs through October or November, is just beginning.

Climate Change Driving Fires to Unprecedented Fury

Wildfires are a part of nature. But the size and intensity of the fires in this and recent years, the speed with which they spread, and the areas where they are occurring are being driven largely by climate change.

The capitalist-imperialist system, driven by ruthless competition among competing capitalists in a relentless drive for profit and domination, has long spewed—and continues to spew—greenhouse gases into the air. These gases, created largely by the burning of oil and other fossil fuels, trap heat in the atmosphere and have already changed Earth’s climate—and this threatens humans and whole webs of life on this planet.

Among other effects globally, climate change has created a situation on the U.S. West Coast where the fire season lasts months longer, if not all year, where extreme heat waves are five times as likely as they were a few decades before, and where longer, hotter summers dry up the forests, making tinder waiting to explode into infernos.

Other factors contributing to the increasing fires—such as the deaths of millions of trees, the building of homes on the edge of wilderness, and unscientific methods of forest management—are themselves the result of how this capitalist-imperialist society is dealing with climate change and other aspects of how it interacts with nature in an environmentally unsustainable way.

Firefighters say that they are seeing a whole different breed of fires, and that this poses big challenges in fighting them. Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, told the news media that he never saw fires move so quickly, “carrying tens of miles in one period of an afternoon and not slowing down in the evening....”

The five largest fires ever recorded in California have taken place in the last three years, three in the last two months. The total area burned in the state this year is already nine times what burned in all of 2019. Fires are burning in parts of Oregon, the north and the west, that are usually much wetter and resistant to fires.

Whole Towns Reduced to Ashes

At least seven small towns have been wiped out in California, Oregon, and Washington, destroying thousands of homes. More populous areas such as Medford, Ashland, and the Portland suburbs in Oregon and Oroville in California are threatened.

In the Washington town of Malden, the fires approached so quickly that deputies ran through the streets screaming for residents to flee their homes. Most of Malden’s homes were incinerated along with its city hall, post office, and library.

In the town of Phoenix, Oregon, where an estimated 600 homes were destroyed, many residents spent the night in their cars in a Home Depot parking lot. They returned in the morning to scavenge what they could. One resident who defied evacuation orders described to a reporter how he saw 30-foot-high flames shooting from the trees and the tires on his car melting.

Poisoned Air and Water

In many parts of the West Coast, the level of ash and other particles in the air was classified as “very dangerous” or “hazardous.” The air quality is likely to increase people’s vulnerability to COVID-19 and increase its spread.

In California’s Salinas Valley, as several fires burn nearby, farmworkers are in the fields all day picking crops in the unhealthy air. “It hurt our sinuses,” a worker told NPR. “The smoke was so thick.”

Fires cause hazardous chemicals like benzene to leach into the water, especially when homes and infrastructure containing plastics and man-made products burn. These chemicals can pollute the water supply for many years.

Cascading Disasters

People in California and other Western states are feeling overwhelmed by disaster after disaster: unprecedented fires, unbreathable air, record heat waves, the pandemic, millions unemployed while benefits are cut, seeing our Black and Brown brothers and sisters murdered by police over and over on TV and social media, and watching anti-racist protesters attacked by fascist thugs with the approval of Trump. Hanging over it all: the threat of Trump’s winning or stealing the election and consolidating a fascist regime in this country, with all that means for the people here and around the world.

For a long time, climate scientists have predicted that the intensification of global warming would bring about a cascade of changes, each one building on the others like a wall of dominoes, multiplying the effect. This is what we are seeing right now. It is the product of a system that has, for years on end, ravaged the planet environmentally—and all of that has accelerated with the Trump/Pence fascist regime.

No Going Back to Normal

There is no “going back to normal.” Some aspects of climate change are racing ahead of what even many scientists who had been sounding the alarm were warning about. “People are always asking, ‘Is this the new normal?’” a climate scientist, told the New York Times. “I always say no. It’s going to get worse.”

There is only one way to fundamentally put a stop to this—to overthrow the system of capitalism through an actual revolution when the conditions have ripened, and replace it with a socialist system that is moving toward a world free of all relations of exploitation and oppression—communism. There is a concrete and visionary plan for this, concentrated in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, authored by Bob Avakian.

Before Trump, leaders of the capitalist-imperialist system in the U.S. took small, ineffective actions to supposedly slow climate change. Meanwhile, they continued, driven by the logic of the system, to pump more fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere year after year and to ravage the environment overall.

Trump and his regime have taken this destruction of the planet to a new, even more horrific level. He denies that climate change even exists, rejecting a mountain of scientific evidence. He is auctioning off public lands at a frenzied pace so that oil companies can suck more fossil fuels from the Earth. His cabinet is full of Christian fascists who think it is humanity’s duty to “dominate nature.” In the name of “making America great,” he has pulled out of the largely symbolic Paris Climate Agreement and is rallying other heads of state like Bolsonaro in Brazil to increase the consumption of fossil fuels. Last month, he threatened to withhold aid for fighting the forest fires, claiming California was responsible for the fires because it didn’t sweep the forests floors—an idiotic lie combined with a fascist threat against a “blue” state.

We cannot accept Trump doing all this even one more day—and taking it to an even higher level if he is able to win or steal the election. Everyone who sees this disastrous trajectory and what this means for the planet must fight to force Trump out like the world is at stake, which it is.

The Destruction of the Planet by Capitalism-Imperialism, by Bob Avakian, an excerpt

Fascist Trump Supporters Spread Lies and Foment Violence

For months, Trump has lied about mobs of Black Lives Matters protesters burning down cities. In fact, over 90% of the demonstrations have been peaceful, and the vast majority of violence has been initiated by police or fascist goons. Now, as big areas of the West Coast are literally on fire, Trump’s supporters are following his lead and spreading completely unfounded rumors that “antifa arsonists” are starting the fires in Oregon.

There is no evidence for these rumors. They have been denied by many local and federal officials who have repeatedly said that the rumors make it more difficult to evacuate people out of danger. Think of firefighters coming across fools who are insisting on standing on their porch with a shotgun while the fire bears down on them, insisting they are “protecting” their property.

Those spreading the rumors include high officials in the Republican Party at state and national levels. Jo Rae Perkins, the Republican candidate for Senate in Oregon, shared a tweet from a QAnon feed claiming that the Democratic Party had been setting the fires for political gain. Her primary opponent wrote a series of tweets pushing the false claim that six anti-fascists had been arrested for arson. A representative of Trump’s Turning Point USA political action committee did a series of tweets saying that antifa were behind the fires, giving the lie a national platform.

On September 10, two independent journalists were confronted by armed men in the town of Mololla and ordered to leave.

Think about this: in the midst of devastating fires, fascist leaders in the Republican Party are whipping up their supporters to go after utterly imaginary “antifa” with weapons on the basis of complete lies. This might seem insane, but there is a method to the madness. The fascists are training their people to attack like mad dogs anyone their leaders declare to be threats to their vision of a white supremacist, male supremacist, and world-dominating America.

Fires Caused by Climate Change: A Global Catastrophe

Massive fires driven by climate change are a global phenomenon.

In Australia at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, fires burned 46 million acres (ten times what has burned so far in California in the current fires), destroyed over 5,900 buildings and killed at least 34 people. Nearly three billion animals were killed, and some endangered species were believed to be driven to extinction.

In the Arctic Circle, for the second year in a row, a record number of fires are taking place. The number of Arctic fires has been increasing exponentially in recent years: 600 individual fires were recorded in late July 2020. The average between 2003 and 2018 was about 100.

The Arctic is affected by global warming at an even greater rate than the rest of the Earth. For every 1 degree Fahrenheit of warming elsewhere on the planet, the temperature in the Arctic increases by 2.5 degrees. Record temperatures of 86 degrees were reported this summer in parts of Siberia (where most of the Arctic fires are happening).

Rising temperatures dry out the land. Summer fire seasons are longer and hotter. This dries the forests, creating more combustible material and adding to the size and intensity of the fires.

In the Arctic much of what is burning are peatlands. Peat is carbon-rich soil that accumulates as waterlogged plants slowly decay, sometimes over thousands of years. When peat dries out due to high temperatures, it can burn very hot and very fast, and it releases huge amounts of planet-warming carbon, ten times as much as a burning forest.

The fires are not just caused by climate change—they accelerate the warming process. Arctic fires have emitted more than 244 million tons of carbon dioxide this year—nearly as much as 53 million cars emit in a year. This is 35 percent more than last year’s record fires. Fires in the Arctic are especially dangerous for the climate—when black soot settles on the Arctic ice, it accelerates the melting since dark colors (as opposed to white ice) absorb light, which generates heat.



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