Villages destroyed in Oregon, helicopter evacuations from nature reserves in California and possibly dozens of dead and injured. The dry and blood-soaked weather in the west of America is causing many and huge fires.
Even the sky seems to be on fire. In parts of the west coast, there was hardly any daylight on Wednesday. The smoke from the forest fires caused the sky in cities to turn orange, as if there were hours of sunset. Is it more extreme than usual this year?
Nationally, there will be fewer forest fires in 2020 than the average for the previous ten years. There were over 41,000 this year so far, according to figures from the National Interagency Fire Center. The average is 44,000.
The number of square kilometres of nature burnt is also less than average, with 19 000 compared to more than 23 000. But that is not an area to underestimate. By way of comparison: the Netherlands is 41,543 square kilometres.
From a national point of view, therefore, the number of natural fires in the US does not seem extreme. In various states in the west you can see striking figures. In California, for example, there have already been more than 5900 fires in regional nature reserves this year. The average in the previous five years was 4100.
And especially the area affected by the forest fires is much larger than normal. So far, some 4300 square kilometres have been burnt in the period up to September. The average for the previous five years was 1837. In a whole year, that is.
If you include the fires in national parks, which are monitored by a federal agency, 6700 square kilometres have been affected this year in California.
In addition, there are three fires this year in the top five largest forest fires ever recorded in California.
The states of Oregon and Washington have also been affected again this year. To date, there have been almost 3100 forest fires in the two north-western states, with some 1700 square kilometres of nature lost.
That is almost three times as many as last year, but less than in other years. In 2018, for example, forest fires in the northwest destroyed almost 5400 square kilometres of nature.
It is striking that in more cases people are the cause of the forest fires. According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, people are normally to blame in 70% of cases. In July, however, this was 90% of the cases.
One possible explanation is that people are moving more into nature after the lockdowns earlier this year.
Forest fires spread quickly due to drought and strong winds. In Oregon, five villages and hundreds of houses have now been destroyed: