California Wildfires Have Burned Over 2 Million Acres of Forest This Year

California Wildfires Have Burned Over 2 Million Acres of Forest This Year

At present, more than 14,000 firefighters are fighting around 24 major fires across the state of California which continue to grow.

It is estimated that this year, an area totalling around five times the size of London has been burned by these wildfires.

The fires do not stop at the state border – Oregon and Washington state are facing similar destruction.

The smoke from the fires has turned the skies orange, prompting calls for various neighbourhoods most at risk to be evacuated. Similar fires in 2018 damaged or destroyed 24,226 structures, and caused 100 confirmed fatalities.

Dry and hot weather, paired with gusty winds, is helping the fires to spread.

Los Angeles county saw temperatures of 121F (49.5C), a record high over the weekend, and San Francisco hit 100F (38C) on Sunday, breaking a previous same-day record of 92F (33C) set more than 100 years ago in 1904.

These temperatures have two large risks attached to them. First, when combined with dry, gusty winds, can facilitate the spread of a fire. Second, they result in an increased electricity usage, primarily from the use of air conditioning systems, somewhat overloading the electricity lines. The power grids in California are notoriously sensitive to high temperatures.

California power companies have warned of power outages to attempt to control the situation and prevent any further fires from starting. Dried woodland material falling onto electrified lines was the direct cause of one blaze in the 2017 wildfires.

These record breaking temperatures are also causing electrical storms, with lightning striking dried areas of woodland. Dead, dry trees are the perfect fuel for a large blaze.

This week, one particular blaze was reported to have been ignited by a ‘pyrotechnic’ device used for a gender reveal stunt. Devices such as these often combust, releasing a coloured smoke, indicating the gender of the baby.

More information

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Main image: The Woolsey Fire, California, 2018. Photo courtesy of Peter Buschmann