As wildfires continued to burn across the US west coast, with smoke reaching as far as Europe, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, issued a stark warning on climate, saying: “The facts are the facts.”
Forecast rain for the Pacific north-west prompted hopes on Thursday of improved fire-fighting conditions in Washington state and Oregon, parts of which have been decimated and swathed in the world’s worst air quality.
With resources stretched to the limit, weary crews fought to make progress on Thursday. One troubling fire in the San Gabriel Mountains, north-east of Los Angeles, prompted new evacuation orders on Thursday.
Angeles national forest officials say the Bobcat fire is a mile (1.61km) from the community of Juniper Hills in foothills on the north flank of the mountain range. Nearby communities including Devils Punchbowl and Paradise Springs have also been ordered evacuated.
Firefighters in southern California scored a notable victory against the blaze on Tuesday night, saving the famed Mount Wilson Observatory and its telescopes from being swallowed.
“I was telling people [on Tuesday] that the defense of the Mount Wilson Observatory was taking on the feel of a mini-Alamo,” said John Clearwater, a spokesman for forest, where the blaze erupted on 6 September.
Smoky conditions continue to plague the west, although visibility was improving in places, with reports of blue skies emerging. The Bay Area National Weather service tweeted: “There’s still smoke in parts of northern and interior California but parts of the San Francisco area are FINALLY seeing blue skies – and it is not being taken for granted.”
But drifting smoke prompted the National Weather Service (NWS)to issue a dense smoke advisory in Nevada until late Thursday morning, with residents near Lake Tahoe advised to stay indoors.
On Thursday, Yosemite national park announced it was closing to all visitors due to significant smoke impacts from California’s wildfires. The park says there is hazardous air quality throughout Yosemite, and that the park will reopen when conditions are safe.
Sequoia national park closed this week due to a growing wildfire in the adjacent Sequoia national forest. Kings Canyon national park remains open but air quality is described as poor.
During a briefing on Wednesday, Newsom described the fires as a “human activity-induced, climate-induced wildfire season” and called on government officials at every level to take action in tackling the issues behind the unprecedented infernos that have burned 5m acres from southern California to northern Washington state.
Average temperatures between June and September in California, which is currently battling 25 different fires in which at least 25 people have died, have risen roughly 3F in four decades, he said.
“You see that trend-line? That is not going in the right direction. That only underscores our urgency to address head on the issue of climate and climate change, and to double down on our efforts here in the state of California.”
He added: “We need to reconcile that the fact there are no Democrat thermometers and there are no Republican thermometers, there’s fact and there’s reality as well as observed evidence. It’s not a belief system. It’s an acknowledgement. The facts are the facts.”
He said he made it “crystal clear” to Donald Trump and to the Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris, in their visits to California earlier this week, that everybody needs to take “mutual responsibility”.
So far the fires across California, Washington state and Oregon have destroyed record acreage and killed at least 34 people. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated and displaced, and thousands of homes destroyed.
David Roth, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said there was rainfall expected in parts of Oregon on Thursday and Friday, but that because of “burn scars” caused by the fires, it could lead to flooding and debris or mud flows and that flash flood watches were in place. He added that next week, heavier rains are forecast for north-west Oregon on Wednesday or Thursday.
The NWS issued a flash flood watch on Thursday for areas in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, including parts of counties that were just devastated by major wildfires.
In California, where 3.3m acres of the state have been burned since the start of the year, the conditions offered no respite. “With no significant precipitation in sight, California remains dry and ripe for wildfires,” Cal Fire said on Wednesday.
In excess of 17,000 firefighters are tackling more than 24 large fires – the deadliest of which is the North Complex, which has killed at least 15 in the last 10 days and burned more than 273,000 acres. On Wednesday it was 36% contained, according to Cal Fire.
The state’s largest ever fire, the August Complex, in northern California, has destroyed more than 800,000 acres and is 30% contained.
At least 4,200 structures have been destroyed in the state and over 38,000 people are under evacuation.
In Oregon, at least eight people have died and an additional 12 people are missing. A federal disaster declaration has been approved, but state officials are urging the federal government to declare the wildfires a public health emergency.
“This decision will make more federal aid available to the State and provide resources needed for our communities to rebuild,” tweeted the Oregon representative Peter DeFazio.
Meanwhile, smoke from the fires has reached as far as Mexico, Canada and Europe. Scientists said on Wednesday that satellite images showed it had traveled almost 5,000 miles to the UK.
Agencies contributed reporting