The Guardian

Firefighters pushed to the limits as unprecedented infernos rage across US west coast

Fatigue and strain sets in as crews face multiple challenges: Covid, civil unrest, a political year and record-breaking fires
A firefighter battles the Creek fire in Madera county, California, on 7 September. Photograph: Noah Berger/AP

It was always going to be a hard year for California’s firefighters. Even before freak summer lightning storms lit up the state weeks earlier than expected and Covid-19 and the climate crisis became dueling calamities, fire crews were bracing for a season of record-breaking infernos across the west.

Now, fatigued first responders are facing fires that are burning hotter, faster and more frequently than ever before – and it’s only expected to get worse as the season goes on. The strain is already starting to set in.

“I have never seen something at this level,” said James Bowron, a battalion chief at the Oakland fire department. In nearly three decades on the job, he has never witnessed this many fires burning at once.

California saw a fierce and early start to its annual fire season. By the first week of September, a record 3.3m acres had gone up in flames. That’s 26 times more than the area that had

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