Data shows that the West Coast fires have been “tens to hundreds of times more intense” than the nationwide average in the 18 years the agency has monitored blazes, it said.
They have “already emitted far more carbon in 2020 than in any other year” since the records began, CAMS said — even though it is just the start of peak wildfire season.
“The scale and magnitude of these fires are at a level much higher than in any of the 18 years that our monitoring data covers,” CAMS Senior Scientist Mark Parrington said.
“The fact that these fires are emitting so much pollution into the atmosphere that we can still see thick smoke over [5,000 miles] away reflects just how devastating they have been in their magnitude and duration.”
The European agency uses aerosol optical depth (AOD) to measure how much sunlight is blocked, Parrington said.
“Over the western US, AOD levels have been observed to reach values of seven or above,” he said. “To put this into perspective, an AOD measurement of one already implies very hazy conditions and potentially poor air quality.”
Swiss air quality monitoring group IQAir said the four major West Coast cities battling blazes — Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco — are now all in the top 10 worst in the world for pollution and air quality.
California has suffered eight of the 10 largest fires in the state’s history all in the past decade — with 2020 seeing the worst, the Los Angeles Times noted.
The paper noted that the fire season usually peaks in the fall, meaning the record-breaking year may yet get worse.
“I’ve been at this 23 years, and by far this is the worst I’ve seen,” said Justin Silvera, a 43-year-old battalion chief with Cal Fire whose men sometimes work 64 hours at a stretch.
“There’s never enough resources,” said Silvera, one of nearly 17,000 firefighters in California. “We can’t contain one before another erupts.”
Andy Stahl, a forester who runs the Oregon-based advocacy group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, compared efforts trying to stop some of the most destructive blazes to “dropping a bucket of water on an atomic bomb.”
The fires rage on even after California alone has spent $529 million since July 1 on the wildfires, Cal Fire officials said.
“More crews, more air tankers, more engines and dozers still can’t overcome this powerful force of nature,” said Tim Ingalsbee, a member of the advocacy group Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology.
“The crews are beat up and fatigued and spread thin, and we’re barely halfway through the traditional fire season.”