Dispatches from the apocalypse: Photos show eerie scenes and orange skies as smoke tints the atmosphere across the West Coast

The view from Brian Wickman’s apartment in San Francisco. Brian Wickman
  • Hundreds of wildfires are burning in Oregon, California, and Washington, destroying buildings and forcing evacuations in all three states.
  • Smoke from the fires is filling the atmosphere in many areas along the West Coast, causing skies to turn eerie shades of orange and red.
  • Photos show what the apocalyptic landscapes look like on the ground.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“Good morning, hell.”

That’s what San Francisco resident Brian Wickman wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning in a caption alongside the eerie photo above. Outside his apartment window, the sky was bright orange.

Wickman isn’t the only one referencing the end times this week. As hundreds of wildfires tore through Washington, California, and Oregon on Tuesday and Wednesday, their has smoke accumulated in the sky, casting many regions in creepy, apocalyptic shades of orange and red.

“Welcome to Mordor,” Blake Stearman tweeted from southern Oregon, alongside images of tangerine skies.

‘Skies from Southern Oregon are apocalyptic. Welcome to Mordor,’ Blake Stearman tweeted on September 8, 2020. Blake Stearman/Twitter

Fuelled by dry vegetation and unusually high summer temperatures — both effects of climate change — the fires have destroyed homes and forced evacuations in all three states. A new bout of blazes in Oregon, the Sierras, and other areas erupted this month, just weeks after lightning strikes started hundreds of wildfires in Northern California. Two of those August fires became the second- and third-biggest in state history.

Wildfire smoke causes these striking changes to the sky because sunlight interacts with particles in the atmosphere and scatters differently depending on how it hits them. Nitrogen and oxygen molecules are what that light usually hits, and they’re best at scattering light with short wavelengths, like blue light. This phenomenon is called Rayleigh scattering, and it explains why the sky is normally blue.

Particles from smoke, meanwhile — like volatile organic compounds, dust, and soot — are much larger than gas molecules, and they scatter light with longer wavelengths. That’s a phenomenon called Mie scattering, and it’s why skies turn orange and red due to wildfire smoke (it doesn’t have to do with the colour of the flames themselves).

From Washington to San Francisco, here are nine striking and apocalyptic images of the smoke-discolored skies.

Red skies in Turner, Oregon, illuminated the empty Enchanted Forest theme park, creating a haunting scene.

Images of the Enchanted Forest amusement park in Turner, Oregon. Mary Tofte

About 10 miles north, in Salem City, Oregon, smoke from the 159,000-acre Santiam Fire turned the sky hazy and dark orange.

In addition to the Santiam Fire, fires are burning in southern and coastal Oregon, as well as the state’s Clackamas River area and McKenzie River Corridor. All are filling the sky near Salem City with smoke.

Red sky and thick smoke are seen in Salem City, Oregon, on September 8, 2020. Zak Stone via Reuterrs

Bright orange skies contrasted sharply with the the San Francisco International Airport — which was, ironically, lit up green in honour of the city’s parks.

Orange skies above the San Francisco International Airport San Francisco International Airport

In downtown San Francisco, the city’s famous fog slid in below the smoke to create a thick orange haze.

San Francisco, California, on September 9, 2020. Katie Canales/Business Insider

To the south, in San Jose, California, local photographer Austen Nguyen captured smoke-tinted sepia images of his home.

Images of a home in San Jose, California, tinted sepia by smoke from wildfires on September 9, 2020. Austen Nguyen

Just north of San Francisco, the town of Sausalito was also blanketed in orange.

A man walks his dog along Bridgeway Avenue as smoke from wildfires darken the morning in Sausalito, California, September 9, 2020. Eric Risberg/AP

In the area around the Sumner Grade Fire in Sumner, Washington, a blood-red sky surrounded the setting sun.

The sun is seen against a sky turned reddish-orange with smoke from wildfires as it sets near Sunner, Washington, September 8, 2020. Ted S. Warren/AP

And in Seattle and Mercer Island, Washington, smoke from multiple brushfires turned the sunset over Lake Washington a dull purple.

A smoky sunset over Lake Washington, a lake next to Seattle and Mercer Island, Washington, on September 8, 2020. Washington State Department of Ecology via NWS