The West Coast has woken up to another morning of terrifying, burnt orange skies as wildfires rage in nine states. The scene is particularly surreal in San Francisco, where the acrid, discolored air, transformed by tremendous amounts of smoke, made the cityscape unrecognizable, like a vista from another planet. But it is our planet. Rebecca Solnit writes in the Guardian that today, looking up, she felt “the most unnatural-feeling and unnerving of my life, with darkness rather than daytime rolling in.”
Though smoke from wildfires has long created smoky air and vivid sunsets in California and elsewhere, this yet-again unprecedented season feels like we are nearing a tipping point in the climate crisis — if we haven’t already gone over it. The fires, stoked by record-breaking heat and dryness, are themselves behaving differently, with new ferocity. The Bear Fire in Butte County, CA, was smoldering for weeks in a national forest before it exploded to nearly a quarter of a million acres in 24 hours after winds picked up suddenly. The flames have killed three people, at least one who was fleeing in a car, and seven more are missing. Residents of the town of Oroville have had to evacuate; some of them are survivors of the 2018 Camp Fire who had relocated.
While photos of the orange skies may look like something out of an apocalypse movie, they are very, very real, and happening now. The writer Carvell Wallace said on Twitter that the atmosphere “is worse, weirder, and more horrifying than you can imagine.”