California resembles nothing short of an apocalyptic wasteland presently. The state is witnessing more than 30 wildfires at the moment. This happened after a lightning storm hit the state earlier this week. The wildfires in California are clustered in regions like the North of San Francisco and along the coast. But the fire is not limited to those regions alone. It’s spreading rapidly which is the biggest cause of concern.
Four Complex Fires Are Currently Blazing Through California
In northern San Francisco, the hardest hits are the counties of Napa, Lake, Solano and Sonoma due to the Hennessy Fire and the LNU Lightning Complex Fire. Along the coast, areas of San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties took the brunt of the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from these regions owing to the devastating wildfires in California. Moreover, the area of Vacaville which has an approximate population of more than 100,000 people also falls under the places evacuated for the raging wildfires. More than 46,000 acres has already been scorched by the historic lightning siege.
Many of the regions were given evacuation orders a few days before the dreadful wildfires began but some places like the residents of Boulder Creek were asked to evacuate on an immediate basis without a short-term notice. Horrifying videos of survivors travelling through flames and tweets regarding the wildfires in California are circulating in the internet. According to the latest reports, the temperature has reached a three digit figure. It is complemented by heat and violent winds which are acting like catalysts for the wildfires in California.
After such incidents, many scientists have reported that the wildfires across the globe are becoming more unpredictable by each passing day. It becomes imperative to understand why the wildfires in California are becoming so destructive.
Wildfires In California On The Rise
What California is facing at the moment can easily be categorized under the most destructive and deadliest of wildfires in the history of the US. Though wildfires are a natural phenomenon, global warming and climate change which are responsible for the increasing frequency of wildfires across the globe are man-made factors.
So are the growing ferocity of wildfires in California and other places a manifestation of a deeper environmental truth that governments are evading?
This is a home burning off Pleasants Valley Rd in #Vacaville not far from Mix Canyon Rd. I have no idea how many homes were destroyed on the west side of Pleasants Valley, but it will be substantial. #LNULightningComplex #kpixtv pic.twitter.com/NZmpQmQvOs
— Katie Nielsen (@KatieKPIX) August 19, 2020
In the past years, we’ve been aware of a wildfire season during fall. But CalFire leaders are of the opinion that there is no such season anymore because California has been battling blazes the whole year round. Guess the phrase ‘fire has no season’ came true for these places.
Expert opinion on the increasing wildfires in California suggests that there are a couple of key reasons specifically in this region that create a recipe for destruction. Fire Safety officials are also concerned about another factor. According to their opinion, the forests will grow back because they have a nature of doing so. However, they worry about the evacuated communities. Officials are becoming concerned about the fact whether it’ll ever be safe to put these communities back together again.
Wildfires In California: A Special Challenge
Fire is a natural occurrence. It can be managed or lessened but not prevented in entirety. Similarly, forest fires are an inevitable and essential part of the ecosystem. Forest fires occur due to natural reasons most of the time. But the problem with the wildfires in California is that it’s frequent, caused due to several human-controlled factors, and the terrain makes it even more difficult to control them when they get out of proportion.
The recent Lightning-struck wildfire might be naturally caused but many fires in the recent past have been caused due to human intervention. Several fires have even been sparked off by cigarette buds, or abandoned encampments or even fireworks. The poor infrastructure of major companies is also responsible for a major share of wildfires in California. For instance, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company has ignited a number of wildfires in the region over the past couple of years.
Moreover, the terrain is challenging. If there are wildfires in California, firefighters have to work their way through steep hills and canyons. This makes it more difficult to contain raging fires like the one that’s going over the state at the moment. The pandemic has also had its impact on the response team. The impact on the economy has led to shortage of resources, firefighters a disintegration of the fire management system.
What Are The Reasons Behind These Destructive Wildfires In California?
· Climate Change
In a world with ever-increasing global warming, climate change surely has a role to play in the devastating wildfires in California. Some of the fires in the recent past are not the direct result of climate change. However, climate change provides fuel for the fire. It does it with hot, dry conditions. There’s been a massive five-fold increase in the area that burns in California each year since the 1970s.
Why are drylands crucial in understanding wildfires? The drier the land is, the lesser snowmelt there is from the Sierras during spring. This causes the land to get dry and leaves it without enough moisture for any kind of vegetation cover. When increasing portions of land experience these conditions, it’s easy for a forest fire to catch. It’s almost like a domino chain made out of matchsticks; needs one spark to go ablaze.
New York Times shared a survey report that 9 out of 10 of the largest wildfires in California have occurred in the past decade. It’s interesting to note that this same decade has nine of the hottest years recorded since 2000.
Besides these, there is a prominent 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit increase in the average temperature of the world. This is surely no coincidence!
In the recent past, California faced the Valley of Fire in 2015 which was the 4th most deadly forest fire. Next, the Sobranes wildfire in 2016 flamed over 132,000 acres in Monterey County. The following years witnessed the Thomas Fire (2018) in Ventura which torched around 281,893 acres of land, the CampFire (2018) as well as the Mendocino Complex Fire (2018) which were record wildfires in the history of California.
But understanding climate change doesn’t help us get a complete picture of the wildfires in California. There are other factors that catalyze or intensify them.
The dry and hot conditions of the atmosphere bring us to the next agent: winds. According to a study published in the Environmental Letters journal, southern California experiences two wildfire seasons. One is from June to September. Wildfires in this season are carried by dry, warm winds which spark inland fires. Though these winds cause fires, they are not as bad. The wildfires remain contained in the area. However, according to the New York Times, the next season is the one to worry about. This wildfire season happens from October to April.
During this time, the flames are kept alive by the Santa Ana winds that cruise across the Transverse Mt. Range all the way from the Mojave Desert or the Great Basin. These winds are far more dangerous. As they travel more distances, they carry the flames with them and ignite faraway places. In the North, the same thing happens owing to the Diablo winds. Wildfires in California spread and grow almost 3 times faster during this season due to these winds. The Santa Ana and Diablo winds encroach into densely populated areas and put thousands of people at risk.
Fire Tornado today outside Chilcoot and Hallelujah Junction California. This was intense and scary!!!! @TheTXWXchaser @spahn711 @JimCantore @ReedTimmerAccu @jeffpiotrowski #CAwx #LoyaltonFire #firenado #FireSeason2020 pic.twitter.com/vfwrTKK02n
— Tasha Joy (@That1GirlTasha) August 16, 2020
Such high winds are why California faces such destructive wildfires. They not only act as catalysts for the fire but also cut off air support. This becomes extremely dangerous for firefighters. The rising winds prevent retardant-dropping planes from flying in the horizon. It also becomes challenging to fly water-spraying helicopters over wildfires that are aggravated by high winds.
Another challenge is that the fires never really stop when there are high winds. The embers are carried to other locations and fresh fires begin in those regions as well. This way, the fire doesn’t remain contained within the forest. They can land anywhere and set the place on fire.
Latest reports also show that fire tornadoes are on the rise in Lassen County near the Loyalton wildfire.
· Smokey Bear
After all it doesn’t make sense to intervene in natural processes. Wildfires in California and other places are a natural phenomenon. It’s essential for the ecosystem as it prevents overgrowth and also helps in new growth. It clears out invasive grasses and keeps up the forest cycle. Interfering with that delicate system had to come at a cost. Remember Smokey Bear’s mantra “Only You”?
For over a century, fire management organizations have prevented these natural fires from happening. This has tampered with the forest cycle. Now the forests in and around California are essentially catching up.
More and more people are taking up forest areas for habitation. This is also making matters worse.
There are few of the factors that lead to the massive wildfires in California. It’s time to understand them and try to mitigate them together.