Firefighters battle wildfires and record heat in California

More than 10,000 men battle major fires throughout the State

Wildfires California

There are 23 large wildfires throughout the first week of September in California. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE), the state firefighting agency, reported that more than 4,900 fires in California as of this year, scorching nearly 229,000 acres. During that same period last year, CALFIRE reported 3,674 fires that burned 202,716 acres. California's five-year average for the month August is about 3,700 fires and more than 133,800 acres of scorched land. The state’s firefighters also have to deal with strong winds and high temperatures that often surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit due to a statewide heatwave.

The largest of California's fires is the Eclipse Complex fire in Northern California's Siskiyou County along the Oregon border. It burned 80,503 acres in the Klamath National Forest and 25-percent of it was contained las week, according to the US Forest Service. Lightning is blamed for the Eclipse Complex fire, which has been burning since August 15th; the Forest Service estimates it'll be contained by October 10th.

Vehicles are among the most common cause of fires. A car crash caused the Manzanita fire, which burned more than 6,300 acres near Beaumont in June. According to CALFIRE, drives can take several steps to avoid sparking fires: never pulling over dry grass, make sure vehicles are properly maintained, ensure towing chains aren't dragging against the ground, and checking tire pressure to avoid wheel rim exposure.

The state is coming off  of one of its wettest winters in years, which left hillsides covered in grass and other vegetation. Said lawn dried out this summer and turned into tinder, providing fuel for rapidly spreading fires often pushed by strong winds. An increase in the number of dead and dying trees can also exacerbate the wildfire threat, CALFIRE officials affirmed. An estimated of 102 million trees have dried up in California due to the state's five-year dry spell and bark beetle infestation.

The state agency has been urging residents to take anticipation in preventing catastrophes, such as maintaining 100 feet of defensible space around homes and other structures. Defensible space provides a natural buffer between buildings and grass, trees, bushes, shrubs, and other vegetation that can easily burn.

Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, had declared a local emergency earlier this week and Governor Jerry Brown did the same on a state level for Los Angeles County after the wildfire destroyed three homes and threatened hillside neighborhoods.

Last fall, researchers published the results of a study that found human-induced climate change accounted for about half the observed increase in fuel aridity, or forest dryness, in the Western U.S. since 1979 and had nearly doubled the area affected by forest fires since 1984. During that same time, temperatures across the West have risen. Temperatures are projected to rise further—and along with them, the tinderbox conditions that fuel wildfires.

"We know that global warming has already increased the probability of unprecedented high temperatures in the western U.S., including in California", Noah Diffenbaugh said, a Stanford researcher, "And we know, with high confidence, that continued global warming will continue to intensify those increases".

One of the worst wildfire seasons in recent California history is sending smoke into nearly every corner of the state, turning skies into a gray haze and triggering unhealthy-air warnings, even in Bay Area cities that usually benefit from a protective ocean breeze.

 

Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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