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The smoke from US West Coast wildfires is visible from nearly 1 million miles away (photo)

NASA's EPIC camera aboard the NOAA Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft captured this photo on Sept. 9, 2020. A thick pall of smoke from the West Coast wildfires hovers over the Pacific Ocean, just off the West Coast. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

The smoke wafting from the wildfires raging across the Western United States is a wrenching sight, even from nearly a million miles away.

NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) captured a dramatic shot of the smoke on Wednesday (Sept. 9), showing a huge gray-brown smudge hovering over the Pacific Ocean just off the West Coast. 

EPIC rides aboard the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), which orbits the sun in a gravitationally stable spot 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth.

Related: Raging California wildfires spotted from space (photos, video)

The smoke is bad over terra firma as well, blanketing much of California, Oregon and Washington state. The extent of the pollution, which has caused hazardous air quality and apocalyptically orange skies across the West Coast, is laid bare in a photo snapped Wednesday by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instrument on NASA's Terra satellite.

Such imagery helps convey the scale and ferocity of the current fires, which have killed at least 15 people to date and forced more than 40,000 people in Oregon to evacuate their homes, according to The New York Times.

The blazes are also charring huge tracts of land. For example, 330,000 acres (133,500 hectares) burned in Washington on Monday (Sept. 8) alone, Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted on Tuesday (Sept. 9). That's more than in 12 of the state's 18 most recent entire fire seasons, he said.

Smoke from wildfires blankets much of the West Coast in this photo captured on Sept. 9, 2020 by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Terra satellite. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

And wildfires have burned more than 3.1 million acres (1.25 million hectares) in California since the beginning of the year, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) wrote in an update Friday (Sept. 11). 

"This year’s acres burned is 26 times higher than the acres burned in 2019 for the same time period, and the combined amount of acres burned is larger than the state of Connecticut," CALFIRE officials wrote.

The raging fires are driven by high temperatures and dry conditions throughout the West. The region is getting hotter and drier thanks to human-caused climate change, so it's no surprise that wildfires there have been getting more extreme and more destructive recently, experts say.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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  • hypatia
    I live in Washington State & all I have to do is look out my window. The air quality in my neighborhood is over 200 (very unhealthy). I know that I'm in a better way than the people caught in the middle of the actual fires but breathing this smoke for almost a week has not been easy on the throat & lungs.
    Reply