Largest Fires in California’s History

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In California, the officially hottest month on the record– July – was topped with the most severe wildfire season that Californians have ever witnessed. The recently published National Year-to-Date Report on Fires and Acres Burned by the National Interagency Fire Center, states that by September 6, 6,004 fires have burned a whopping 1,422,998 acres of Californian land. CAL FIRE offers insightful year-by-year of the land they manage: 613,710acres burned in 2018 by September 2, compared with 233,936in 2017, and a five-year average of 158,460, all counted for the same period. The near-triple increase is fairly obvious.

The current wildfire season was also marked by extreme single fires- Mendocino Complex fire has spanned across 459,000 acres. Last year’s predecessor, the Thomas fire, was put out in January of 2018, practically uniting the seasons of 2017 and 2018.  Just as the things seem to have settled down with all the major wildfires finally contained, two new large fires – Delta and Hitz then developed in Northern California, forcing evacuations because of their rapid overnight growth. As of September 6, the Hirz Fire had covered more than 46,000 acres, burning parts of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Redding.  More than 14000 firefighters were deployed to control the fires during August. As of early September, six firefighters died while fighting the flames, along with eight civilians.

It’s not just the numbers that are staggering; it is the features of the fires as well. Unexpectedly and unusually, they are burning hot through nights instead of settling down, with blazes swallowing hillsides faster than ever before, damaging the neighborhoods that were once estimated as safe. Firenados are another surprise brought in by the 2018 fire season, most notable one being the one brought near Redding, CA by the Carr fire, with an amazing speed of 230 kilometres per hour.

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of California fires and smoke blowing from them on August 06, 2018 with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, MODIS, instrument.

NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of California fires and smoke blowing from them on August 06, 2018 with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, MODIS, instrument.

Yosemite National Park hasn’t been closed because of wildfires since 1990; however, by August 5, the fire has impacted all of the roads used to access Yosemite Valley, and the area was evacuated. Some areas of the park had to be closed indefinitely.

The pattern that Californian fires have been showing in recent years have made researchers think about the need for new estimations and models, as Nature reports. Some public figures oversimplified the problem by blaming the intensity of fires on California’s numerous dead treesand the lack of forest management. However, it is not all as simple as clear-cutting the dry trees. There are issuesof different approaches by different forest management bodies, interest group conflicts, and budgets, as well as simpler human factors that are hard to control – such as people moving into the fire-prone areas, or directly igniting fires.

What most experts agree upon is that both federal and state government need to invest more in managing forests and the related fire risks. And accordingly, the lawmakers approved the five-year 1 billion dollar package to reduce the risk of wildfires across the state.

On top of it all, climate change is a larger factor that hovers over the entire wildfire crisis, responsible forlong droughts, hot nights, tree die-offs, and extreme windsthat all made the intense global wildfire season possible.

The state of California isn’t lonely in its devastation – the 2018 wildfire season has been abnormal around the world. Canada’s British Columbia is also experiencing the worst season on record. In Europe, Sweden has been struck with around 50 wildfires– a consequence of the worst drought since the late 19th century – and Greecehad an extremely fast-moving wind-powered fire in the suburbs of Athens with a death toll of 91.

The global wildfire influence is vividly pictured on NASA’s global aerosol visualization, which shows entire North American west coast coated in black carbon aerosols emitted by the fires.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using GEOS data from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at NASA GSFC.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using GEOS data from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at NASA GSFC.

As it seems that the wildfire season is not over yet, unfortunately, we can expect for the striking figures to rise even more as more fires continue to emerge.

Resources

“2018 National Year-to-Date Report on Fires and Acres Burned” (PDF). NIFC. September 6, 2018. https://gacc.nifc.gov/sacc/predictive/intelligence/NationalYTDbyStateandAgency.pdf

2018 Now Worst Fire Season On Record As B.C. Extends State Of Emergency. CBC News. August 29, 2018. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/state-emergency-bc-wildfires-1.4803546

Assessing the U.S. Climate in July 2018. NOAA National Centres For Environmental Information. https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/national-climate-201807

CAL FIRE incident information. http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_stats

California’s $1 Billion Plan To Reduce Wildfire Risk. Mercury News. https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/08/31/1-billion-plan-to-reduce-california-wildfire-risk/

Dello K. “Prepare for larger, longer wildfires”. Nature World View Column. https://www.nature.com/news/prepare-for-larger-longer-wildfires-1.22821

Enormous wildfires spark scramble to improve fire models. Nature. August 31, 2018. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06090-0

Innocence Lost – Extreme Weather Is Going Crazy This Summer. We Don’t Have Time (Sweden). July 13, 2018. https://medium.com/wedonthavetime/innocence-lost-extreme-weather-is-going-crazy-this-summer-4c79f175c83a

Just Another Day On Aerosol Earth. NASA Earth Observatory. August 23, 2018. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/92654/just-another-day-on-aerosol-earth

Thinning California’s Fire-Prone Forests: 5 Things to Know. Times of San Diego. September 3, 2018. https://timesofsandiego.com/politics/2018/09/03/thinning-californias-fire-prone-forests-5-things-to-know/

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