Nearly 20 major wildfires have torn through California in the last month, killing at least six people and causing thousands more to flee their homes. And according to experts, we should probably get used to it.
“What we’re seeing over the last few years in terms of the wildfire season in California … [is] very consistent with the historical trends in terms of increasing temperatures, increasing dryness, and increasing wildfire risk,” Stanford Earth System Science Professor Noah Diffenbaugh told The Independent.
He added: “They’re also very consistent with what we can expect in the future as global warming continues.”
California recorded 9,560 wildfires in 2017 – about 2,000 more than the year before, according to the US Forest Service. As of this of July, however, California wildfires had destroyed three times the amount of land compared to the time same period last year. According to the Mercury News, four firefighters have already died fighting the blazes this summer – an unprecedented number for so early in the fire season.
Jonathan Cox, battalion chief for Cal Fire’s Northern California region, said the massive fires had become “the new normal” for California.
“We’ve seen larger and more destructive fires year over year, and unfortunately this year doesn’t look to be any different,” he told ‘CBS This Morning’. “So unfortunately this new normal is kind of upon us in California: more deadly, more destructive fires, more often.”
Seventeen fires were raging across California as of Tuesday morning. The largest of them – the Carr fire – had burned through more than 110,000 acres and destroyed more than 800 homes.
The fire was so hot it at times created its own weather patterns, generating mushroom-like clouds capable of producing strong winds and even lightning. Witnesses told the Associated Press they saw debris flying in the air and hot embers landing in their yards as the fire progressed.
Two more fires near Mendocino and Lake counties had burned through 116 square miles of rural land, according to the AP. Fire crews were able to push one of the fires away from residential areas, towards the Mendocino National Forest, but not before the twin blazes destroyed at least two homes.
Experts say climate change is partly to blame for these extreme weather conditions. Global warming has resulted in higher temperatures and less rain, and – in the southwest in particular – scientists have witnessed the landscape becoming dryer. This gives the fires more fuel to burn longer and stronger.
“When ignition occurs – whether it’s due to lightning, or due to a spark from a car, or due to a campfire or cigarette or any of these possible sources of ignition – the conditions on the ground are much more conducive to wildfire, as a result of global warming,” Mr Diffenbaugh explained.
The number of acres lost to wildfire has been growing annually for decades, Mr Diffenbaugh said, adding: “We know that global warming has contributed to that increase”.
But he US is not alone in this battle: Mr Diffenbaugh’s research team found that global warming had increased the odds of record-setting hot events for more than 80 percent of the globe in recent decades.
At the same time the Carr fire ravaged California, in fact, wildfires in Greece killed nearly 100 people – the deadliest forest fire in Europe in more than a century. Wildfires in Sweden this month were so powerful that the country had to call for foreign assistance.
“You can see that it is getting warmer because the tree line is moving higher up the mountains,” one Swedish fire chief told the Guardian at the time. “Something is happening. We need to be prepared. Humanity needs to take more care.”