Smog blankets US West Coast as deadly wildfires rage

Dense smog from US wildfires that have burnt nearly five million acres and killed 27 people smothered the West Coast Saturday, as presidential challenger Joe Biden warned climate change is becoming an existential issue.

US officials girded for the possibility of further fatalities as wide stretches of land in California, Oregon and Washington remained cut off by flames fueled by tinder-dry conditions of the kind caused by climate change.

Unprecedented infernos have now destroyed an area roughly the size of New Jersey.

“The science is clear, and deadly signs like these are unmistakable — climate change poses an imminent, existential threat to our way of life,” said Biden, the Democratic nominee who will face President Donald Trump at the polls on November 3.

“President Trump can try to deny that reality, but the facts are undeniable,” he said.

The political row comes as Trump prepares to visit California on Monday for a briefing on the wildfires, which he has previously sought to blame on mismanagement by state officials.

Worsening the sense of environmental catastrophe, all five of the world’s most air-polluted cities Saturday were on the West Coast, according to IQAir, with dense smog and ash from the blazes coating the atmosphere from Los Angeles up to Vancouver in Canada.

In Portland, thick, choking smoke blanketed the downtown area Saturday morning.

“It is as if I had smoked 100 cigarettes. I’ve never seen this but we try to stay positive as conditions are getting better,” said a 37-year-old man who gave his name only as Jessie. (AFP | Cyril JULIEN)