California

US 2020 election: In the shadows of the US election, California burns again

The LNU Lightning Complex Fire engulfs a ridge line near Aetna Springs, California, US. Photo credit: REUTERS / Adrees Latif.

By Anders Lorenzen

With just over two months before Americans go to the polls, in one of the most anticipated and important US elections in decades, the Governor of California Gavin Newsom earlier this month warned vulnerable residents to evacuate while there’s still time.

The evacuation request comes, as the state which has suffered serious drought for two decades has again been hit by extreme wildfires with a risk to human life.

Fuelled by lightning storms

So far, the wildfires which have burned across 1.25 million acres, have killed at least seven people and forced thousands of people away from their homes.  It has quickly become one of the largest wildfires hitting the state as its area of destruction doubled earlier this month.

Earlier this month Governor Newsom said fire crews were actively fighting 560 fires across the state, many of them having been sparked by lightning storms. In total, at its peak, 650 different fires have been burning. Local resources have been strained to breaking point. And as a result, the state has had to seek reinforcements from Arizona, Oregon, Washington state, Texas, Nevada as well as far away as Canada and Australia. The Democratic governor added: “We are not naive by any stretch about how deadly this moment is and why it is essential … that you heed evacuation orders and that you take them seriously.” 

California has been impacted by the hardest dry-lightning storms in nearly two decades, with nearly 12,000 strikes over the course of just four days. This has sent flames racing through land already suffering from a heatwave affecting much of the Western US. Governor Newsom said the state has been suffering from what may be the “hottest modern recorded temperatures in the history of the world’.

Climate crisis

The violent fires so early in the fire-season have surprised some scientists, as typically the peak of the season occurs in the autumn due to powerful offshore winds. Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, said: “There’s no real end in sight this year”.

In an election year, these fires have again brought the issue of the climate crisis to the attention of the public, and the issue could dominate the election debate. Trump still deny humanity’s influence on rising temperatures, having previously labelled it a Chinese hoax, and he has again threatened to withhold federal aid to California saying the fires are a result of the state mismanaging its forests.

Wildfires are a natural part of California’s environment.  But in recent years they have increased in frequency and become more extreme and violent as the drought and heat intensifies in the state.

Governor Newsom is not in doubt about the climate crisis. In a video message recorded for the recent Democratic National Convention (DNC) 2020, where Joe Biden was officially nominated as the Democrats presidential candidate, the Californian governor said that if you’re in doubt about climate change then come to California.

The Californian governor`s office is next up for election in 2022.

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