California set a tragic record this week, with more than four million acres (16,180 square kilometres) burned. And there are still at least two months to go in the state’s current fire season.
Noting that the fire-ravaged areas are collectively larger than Connecticut, The Associated Press reports the territory lost so far “is more than double the previous record for the most land burned in a single year in California.”
In 2018, 1.67 million acres burned in the state—a record year in itself.
Killing 31 people and torching more than 8,400 buildings to date, California’s infernos this year have also delivered an “unprecedented” degree of misery to millions of citizens living far from the actual blazes, generating “historically unhealthy air quality and smoke so dense that it blurred skies across California and on some days even blotted out the sun.”
AP adds that the “relentless” heat wave that hit the state in September “helped fuel the fires and caused so much air pollution that it seeped indoors, prompting stores across California to sell out of air purifiers.”
Mike Flannigan, director of the Canadian Partnership for Wildland Fire Science at the University of Alberta, estimated the acreage lost to wildfires in the state has increased by a factor of five since the 1970s. He added that the overall escalation of fires in western North America largely owes to climate change.
“Temperature is really important to fire. Temperature is key. The warmer it is, the longer the fire season,” he told AP. Further adding to the recipe for conflagration are dauntingly strong winds, and the years of drought that have left forests tinder-dry.
Some 17,000 firefighters, including volunteer contingents from Canada, remain at work across the state battling nearly two dozen major blazes, many of them caused by lightning strikes, with the monster Glass Fire in the vineyard-rich Napa Valley a particular focus of concern.
Bloomberg Green notes that while California’s wildfire season “traditionally runs from September through November,” this pattern is breaking down, with the season growing “longer and less predictable in recent years, with blazes coming as late as December.”
Bloomberg adds: “Five of the six largest fires in California’s history have occurred this year, including the August Complex in Tehama County, which is the biggest ever.” Wildfire Today reported yesterday that the August Complex, which formed out of 37 different fires, has now burned more than a million acres.