In addition to the ongoing pandemic and issues with delayed mail-in ballots ahead of the presidential elections, the USPS must endure another obstacle as wildfires make it nearly impossible for mail carriers to perform their jobs.
The flames up and down the West Coast have destroyed neighborhoods, leaving charred rubble and burned-out cars, forcing tens of thousands to flee and casting a shroud of smoke that has given Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, some of the worst air quality in the world.
The smoke filled the air with an acrid metallic smell and spread to nearby states. While making it difficult to breathe, it helped firefighters somewhat by blocking the sun and turning the weather cooler as they tried to get a handle on the blazes, which were slowing in some places.
“We know that the damage is widespread, but we don’t really know how many homes, how many structures have been destroyed," said Adam Kamins, an economist who tracks natural disasters for Moody’s Analytics. "I imagine the number is going to be an unbearably high one.’’
The fires are unlikely to make much of a dent in the overall $20 trillion U.S. economy. The financial fallout will be measured in the low billions of dollars, not in hundreds of billions or trillions. To make a nationwide impact, Kamins said, it would take something like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which disrupted oil supplies.
But the economic pain will be intense in areas decimated by fire, especially poor towns in rural Oregon and California, piling on at a time when many businesses have already succumbed to the pandemic-induced recession.
California, Oregon and Washington state have seen historic wildfires that have burned faster and farther than ever before. So far, California has 25 active fires, totaling over 2.5 million acres that have burned, according to National Interagency Fire Center website. Oregon has topped out at over 860,000 acres burned with only 1 of the 13 fires contained and Washington has seen over 680,000 acres burned with only 1 of the 15 actives fires contained.
Warnings of low moisture and strong winds could fan the flames in hard-hit southern Oregon to Northern California and last through Tuesday.
The USPS, meanwhile, provided alternative post office locations for residents to pick up their mail until it is safe to reopen the shuttered locations.
The Associated Press and Austin Williams contributed to this report.