California wildfires burn over 1M acres, displace 100K people and kill 7 as authorities scramble to put out blazes

Experts have said that the size and complexity of this fire is something they have never seen before

                            California wildfires burn over 1M acres, displace 100K people and kill 7 as authorities scramble to put out blazes
(Getty Images)

California is burning. The state has already witnessed two of the three largest fires in history. The blazes have wreaked havoc, scorching 1M acres of land, displacing 100,000 people and leaving seven dead.

Igniting them are lightning — a group of fires is called lightning complexes. Hundreds have torched regions across the state. Of them, the SCU (Santa Clara Unit) lightning complex, which has affected 360,055 acres, is the second-largest incident California has seen so far. The LNU (Lake Napa Unit) ranks third with 351,817 acres burned. Only 15% of blazes in SCU and 25% in LNU are contained as of August 24.

About 1,689 homes and other buildings are damaged or destroyed, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). "The size and complexity in this fire is not one that we've seen in times past," Cal Fire unit chief Shana Jones said. "It’s still going to take time to put this fire out."

(Getty Images)


"Foundationally and fundamentally, we are deploying every resource," Gavin Newsom, the state’s governor, said at a press conference. "We continue to battle historic wildfires, but we’re also battling this historic pandemic." So far, Covid-19 has infected 668,615 positive cases and caused 12,152 deaths, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The state has more than 14,0000 firefighters at the forefront combating the fires, with 2,400 engines and 95 aircraft. Further, California received federal aid to help areas affected by the wildfires such as Lake Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties. Still, there is some hope this year. "The weather hasn’t been as significant as we were expecting, which is good," Mark Brunton, operations chief for California’s fire agency, Cal Fire, said at a briefing, according to CNN. But, he added, "conditions are still ripe out there. Complacency kills".

Aerosols over the US from California fires (NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System)

Air quality concerns

The National Weather Service has issued air quality alerts for parts of at least six states: California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico. Affecting air quality are aerosols rising from the blazes. Air currents have already carried tiny particles to Minnesota and Nebraska. They speculate that the smoke will spread across the entire US.

They use the Aerosol Index to measure the number of particles floating in the air. "Heavy concentrations of aerosols that could reduce visibility or impact human health," NASA Worldview. "The Aerosol Index layer is useful for identifying and tracking the long-range transport of volcanic ash from volcanic eruptions, smoke from wildfires or biomass burning events and dust from desert dust storms, even tracking over clouds and areas of snow and ice." 

Climate change appears to have worsened wildfires this year. According to CalFire's 2020 fire season outlook, warmer spring and summer temperatures, reduced snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt have set the stage for longer and more intense dry seasons. This, in turn, has increased stress on vegetation, making forests more susceptible to severe wildfire.

"The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. Climate change is real," Governor Newsom said. "If you are in denial about climate change, come to California. 11,000 dry lightning strikes over a 72-hour period, leading to this unprecedented challenge with these wildfires."

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