Tuesday, August 14, 2018

California is Burning Again

California is being ravaged by the worst wildfire seasons on record. Eight people are know to have been killed by the fires and thousands of homes have been destroyed. Megafires have ravaged The golden state in recent years 2016, 2017 and now 2018 are the three most damaging wildfire seasons in the state's history.

In recent years fires in California have killed hundreds of people and destroyed thousands of buildings. In 2017 the record breaking Thomas fire engulfed the southern California communities of Ventura and Santa Barbara. It burned 271,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,000 structures and prompted the largest deployment of fire resources in California history.

The 2018 fire season in California started early and by the beginning of July it was already twice the five year average. Early this summer the Mendocino Complex fire eclipsed the Thomas fire to become the largest wildfire ever recorded in California. In just over ten days the flames scorched more than 283,000 acres of land. As of August 13th the Mendocino fire has burned 354,410 acres. Records were also broken in the fire that ravaged Sylmar and Lake View Terrace

"We’ve been firefighters for decades," veteran firefighter Antonio Negrete told the Los Angeles Times, "and have never seen anything like this."

The fires that ripped through Northern California in October 2017 killed dozens of people and destroyed almost 10,000 structures. Santa Rosa alone lost 3,000 homes or 5 percent of the community's building stock.

This year, in the first week of July the County fire ignited near Sacramento. It quickly spread out of control and it grew at a rate of 1,000 football fields an hour consuming tens of thousands of acres.

As of the end of July 2018 there were 17 major fires burning in California. In northern California six people were killed by the Carr fire which forced the evacuation of thousands and destroyed almost 900 structures. In the month of July alone the Carr fire consumed 84,000 acres (34,000 hectares) of land. As of August 13th the Carr fire has burned 207,000 acres and is still burning. One of the most interesting aspects of the Carr fire are the high winds that blew down trees and ripped tiles off of roofs. According to some estimates this level of wind damage is consistent with wind speeds in excess of 143 mph.

So far, the Holy Fire has scorched more than 22,700 acres in the Cleveland National Forest. As of August 13th, at least 17 people are known to have been killed by the fires in California and about 2,000 structures have been destroyed.

In the past, scientists have been reluctant to cite climate change as a major factor in California’s worsening wildfires. However, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that climate change is warming the planet and increasing the frequency and ferocity of wildfires.

Heat is feeding these wildfires and thanks to increasingly precise attribution science we can now say with high confidence that at least some of this heat is caused by climate change.  Research also supports the logical hypothesis that warmer temperatures are increasing wildfire intensity.  California has just experienced its hottest summer on record, with less than 25 percent of the average rainfall. The heat dries out vegetation, making it all the more combustible. According to a recent study there is a vast amount of "tinder-dry" vegetation in California that is causing fires to burn more intensely

The state has experienced unprecedented devastation and unless we stop emitting greenhouse gases it will keep getting hotter. Warmer temperatures mean we can expect more frequent and more intense wildfires.

Updated August 14, 2018 at 11:30 EST.

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