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How to help the victims of the California wildfires

In California’s worst year for wildfires on record, more than two dozen are raging across the state, a handful of which have been burning since August. Eight deaths have so far been attributed to the blazes, and over 2 million acres of land have been scorched, with several weeks of the season still ahead.

In comparison, the five-year average number of acres burned during previous seasons is just over 300,000 acres.

Parched land and high winds are exacerbating California’s risk for sustained wildfires as the state faces its second major heat wave in less than two months. The highest temperature ever recorded in Los Angeles County — 121 degrees — was reported this weekend. Another temperature record was broken last month on Aug. 16, when temperatures in Death Valley reached a historic 130 degrees.

The Creek Fire, which is considered 0 percent contained according to CalFire, broke out over the weekend and threatened the lives of hundreds of campers in a nearby Sierra National Forest recreational area. Helicopters evacuated more than 200 people in the area on Sunday, and on Monday officials said that an additional 200 are safe but stranded “across four different temporary refuge areas” in the forest as rescue efforts continue to work toward getting them out.

In Southern California’s San Bernardino County, another blaze now called the El Dorado Fire sparked on Saturday morning as a result of a smoke machine used at a baby gender reveal party. That fire is 16 percent contained as of Tuesday.

Three clusters of fires in the San Francisco Bay Area — the LNU Lightning Complex, the CZU Lightning Complex and the SCU Lightning Complex — caused a majority of the damage last month after being sparked by lightning strikes. Now, all three clusters are between 81 to 94 percent contained.

Firefighters from across the nation have joined California crews to help battle the flames. Both first responders and residents of the surrounding areas are forced to breathe smoke- and ash-filled air, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns can irritate lungs, affect the immune system and make people more prone to lung infections, including the novel coronavirus.

READ MORE: How wildfires can threaten your health

That smoke is taking a particularly drastic toll on farm workers, who are continuing to harvest every day in order to avoid losing crops and disrupting the produce supply chain. People fleeing the fires are also worried about contracting coronavirus from crowded shelters, leaving some to sleep in their cars or seek accommodations at hotels, The New York Times reported.

When the blazes are finally contained, the pandemic will complicate recovery efforts, as those who have been affected start to rebuild their lives with limited resources, while also trying to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.

Here’s how you can help both the victims of these fires and the first responders fighting to get them under control.

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