The Bear Fire and the August Complex fires broke out in Northern California on Monday, Aug. 17, due to a lightening strike. By Labor Day weekend on Sept. 4, more wildfires had spread across California, Oregon, and Washington, with most of them yet to be contained, as of publication on Sept. 11. You’ve likely seen the images and videos of orange skies and billowing smoke, and if you’re wondering how you can do your part to support those affected, here's how you can help wildfire victims in California, Oregon, and Washington.
The West Coast is enduring a record-breaking season of wildfires, with over 2.2. million acres burned in California so far in 2020’s fire season, larger than any previous year, and 26 times more than the acres burned in 2019, according to Cal Fire, which also lists five of the 2020 wildfires in the top 20 largest wildfires in California’s history. Just north of the state, 10% of Oregon residents (500,000 people) have been evacuated as of Sept. 11, due to the fires raging there, according to The Washington Post.
As of publication on Sept. 11, Washington state; Portland, Oregon; and certain counties in California are under states of emergency. This comes as some fires, like Northern California's Bear Fire and the Bobcat Fire, which is 25 miles from LA, as well as Oregon's Alameda Fire remain 0% contained. All told, as of Sept. 11, 17 people have died due to fires in the three states.
To get a sense of the devastation, and how quickly the blazes have spread, take a look at the the Bear Fire, which is now referred to as the North Complex West Zone Fire: It burned for weeks in Butte County before increasing winds of up to 45 miles per hour led to it spreading to over 250,000 acres on Tuesday, Sept. 8. As of Sept. 11, 10 people have died due to the fires in Butte County, and they’ve destroyed or damaged at least 2,000 structures and communities. The August Complex Fire started out as 37 fires in Mendocino National Forest on Monday, Aug. 17, is now the largest fire in modern California history, per The New York Times. It’s burned 471,185 acres across five counties in California, and it remains only 25% contained.
Oregon's wildfires, which include the Holiday Farm Fire, Alameda Fire, and Beachie Fire, have burned 900,000 acres in the state, and Washington has also been hit hard by fire season. Its two largest blazes are the Cold Springs Fire and the Pearl Hill Fire, which, combined, have spread to 337,000 acres.
As people are displaced from their homes and escaping the smoke and fire, here is how you can help, wherever you are:
Donate to help those affected.
One of the most direct ways to help the wildfire victims is to donate, and every amount helps.
- California has a direct fund for fire victims. The California Fire Foundation’s Supplying Aid to Victims of Emergency (SAVE) program gives short-term disaster relief to victims throughout the state, providing $250 gift cards for those who need help, per the website. You can donate here. You can also donate to the firefighters and their families via the California Fire Foundation here.
- The United Way of Northern California gives emergency cash grants to those who have lost their homes to wildfires. Donate here.
- The United Way of Mid-Willamette County has a fund for Oregon residents affected by Mid-Valley wildfire. Donate here.
- The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has a California Wildfires Recovery Fund that focuses on both victim and wildfire assistance and prevention efforts. You can donate here.
- KGW8 and American Red Cross have a Northwest Response Fund. Your donation will help provide funds for response and recovery for the wildfires across the Pacific Northwest.
- Keep Oregon Green is raising money to protect its forests against the devastation of wildfires and combat climate change. Donate here.
A blood donation can help victims injured by the fires. If you're based in California, Oregon, or Washington, consider searching for the closest blood drive near you. Check the American Red Cross to find a location. If you aren't close to the West, your blood donation can still help COVID-19 patients during the ongoing pandemic. If you aren’t able to give blood, you can still help the Red Cross by giving a monetary donation here.
Help the animals.
You can donate funds to the animals displaced by the fires to The Humane Society of Ventura County, the Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation, and The Humane Society of the United States, which distributes funds based on needs. Of course, if you're in any of the affected states, adopting or fostering an animal is also one of the best ways to help displaced pets.
Help fight climate change.
According to The New York Times, experts say increasingly worse wildfires are likely a result of climate change because of rising temperatures, which cause drier grasses and brush, creating conditions that are highly susceptible to fire in California. According to The Los Angeles Times, Oregon has been experiencing Santa Ana-like winds, which are contributing to the spread of the fires, and experts say those gusts are unheard of this time of year.
If you'd like to donate to groups taking actionable steps toward the fight against climate change, check out The Nature Conservatory, which helps protect animals and land from devastation through climate change solutions, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which fights to protect Earth’s natural resources, including water, plants, and animals. You can also donate to activist groups like The Sunrise Movement and This Is Zero Hour, which are working to combat climate change by advocating for major legislation addressing the issues.
Finally, you can also fight climate change by supporting politicians who support climate change legislation and voting for them in the upcoming election on Tuesday, Nov. 3.