The Golden State is constantly ablaze
Nineteen out of the top twenty biggest wildfire catastrophes happened in the past two decades.
The 2020’s August Complex fire was the largest recorded wildfire in California’s history. More than 1 million acres burned in just a few weeks. August Complex spread across an area bigger than Rhode Island (a whole state).
After an uphill battle with August Complex, Residents of Fresno and Madera faced yet another monster conflagration. This time, it was the largest single-source wildfire in California’s history. That’s two back-to-back records in fewer than two months.
What causes wildfires to form, and why are they especially devastating to Californians?
Let’s find out.
Wildfires are among the greatest environmental, economic, and health concerns for Californians
The August Complex wasn’t as devastating in terms of human loss and structural damage. However, September's North Complex and LNU Lightning Complex claimed 20 lives and almost 4,000 properties.
The country suffered some 59,000 fires last year, some set on purpose to limit the spread of more enormous wildfires while others originated naturally.
“More wildfires occur in the East (including the central states), but the wildfires in the West are larger and burn more acreage.”
— Congressional Research Service.
The total number of wildfires is slowly ticking down across the United States. But this statistic is deceptive. Recent wildfires have been deadlier and more destructive in terms of human loss, structural damage, and sheer acreage.
California had 23% more wildfires in 2020 than just 20 years ago.
The devastating magnitude of the latest wildfires combined with the increasing frequency of new extreme events put additional pressure on Californians. The Golden State is under the constant pressure of man-made climate change.
California’s 4 out of 5 historically largest wildfires happened last year
Mendocino Complex is the only destructive wildfire amongst the five largest in California’s history that dates back to 2018. It has burned through 459,123 acres, an area larger than Los Angeles and 5 x San Francisco's combined.
California’s geographic location and weather conditions make the state sensitive to extreme heat events, including wildfires. The following factors
- Dry climate
- Lack of rainfall
- Hight temperatures
- Frequent droughts
- Man-influenced climate change
- Kindling vegetation
Human Activity is the main culprit behind almost all of California’s wildfires
Some 95% of the blame falls on local residents, according to the PBS report.
One family ignited the infamous El Dorado Fire using a pyrotechnic device during a Gender reveal party in 2014. The fire was nicknamed King after destroying 100,000 acres and 80 structures. The baby was unharmed, but one firefighter died, and 12 others were injured.
With more people and more structures, we can expect a greater number of accidents in this area. However, this frequency is problematic as the number and devastating effect of these fires don’t resemble just a population increase.
If anything, better technology and expansive knowledge should help curb the magnitude of destruction that comes with extreme weather events. But that's not the case. These fires could swallow half the state and take away much more than property .
More than 30 research groups investigated 29 wildfires in 2014 to determine the primary cause. Researches have focused on large conflagrations instead of small fires that an individual can put out.
Authors reached somewhat inconclusive results, stating a strong probability that manufactured climate change is likely the main culprit behind the frightening momentum that’s playing out in California right now.
“Our result, based on the CESM1 outputs, indicates that man-made global warming is likely one of the causes that will exacerbate the areal extent and frequency of extreme fire risk, though the influence of internal climate variability on the 2014 and the future fire season is difficult to ascertain.”
NASA drove the conclusion home after two decades of measuring carbon emissions. Wildfires are directly linked to man-made climate disruption.
The world is 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the late 19th century, creating an all-year-round fire hazard for residents of California and other places.
“Where warming and drying climate has increased the risk of fires, we’ve seen an increase in burning,”
— Doug Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.
He also added that “warmer nighttime temperature allow fires to burn through the night and burn more intensely, and that allows fires to spread over multiple days where previously, cooler nighttime temperatures might have weakened or extinguished the fire after only one day.”
California is on fire as you read this article.
The emerging fire-hazard maps track changes in real-time. If you want to get the latest information, visit the University of California Cooperative Extension’s interactive map. Please note that this link does not represent an evacuation map by any means. Follow your local government’s guidelines and law enforcement agencies before making any major or risky decision.