LOS ANGELES — Rhode Island. Images of homes engulfed in flames and mountains glowing like lava would make it easy to conclude the is a charred black landscape. That’s hardly the case, but the frightening reality is that the worst may . California has the acreage burned at this point last year, which ended up setting the record. Now it’s entering a period when have often driven the deadliest blazes.. Flames . Ash covers areas that would dwarf
“Here we are — it’s not the end of August, and the size and distribution and the destruction of summer 2021 wildfires do not bode well for the next months,” said Bill Deverell, a University of Southern California history professor. He teaches about fire in the West. “The suggestion of patterns across the last two decades in the West is deeply unsettling and worrisome: hotter, bigger, more fires.” More than a dozen large wildfires are burning in California grass, brush, and forest that is exceptionally dry from two years of drought likely exacerbated by .
The fires, mainly in the northern part of the state, have burned nearly 1.5 million acres, or roughly 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers). Firefighters are witnessing extreme fire behavior as embers carried miles by gusts ignite vegetation ripe for burning in rugged landscapes, where it’s hard to attack or build a perimeter to prevent it from spreading. Fires that in themiles in the dark.
The Dixie Fire, the largest currently burning and second-biggest on record, wiped out the historic town of Greenville and continues to threaten thousands of homes about 175 miles (282 kilometers) northeast of. The Caldor Fire, burning about 100 miles (161 kilometers) to the south, blew up on Aug. 14, torched parts of the hamlet of Grizzly Flat, and is chewing through dense forest.
Gusts and low humidity in the forecast that could vastly expand the blaze led to the closure Friday of a 40-mile (64 kilometers) stretch of highway that runs along the fire’s perimeter and links Sacramento to. A fire 60 years ago that torched 100 two people near Yosemite National Park once had the record for fastest expansion, covering nearly 31 square miles (80 square kilometers) in two hours. But that kind of spread is becoming more common today. John Hawkins, retired fire chief for the state and now wildland fire consultant, said he hadn’t seen such explosive fire behavior in 58 fire seasons.
“The Harlow Fire of 1961 was one of a kind in its day,” Hawkins said. “As we draw a comparison today, it’s not one of a kind. It’s one after another. Something has changed.” Hawkins said he saw similarly rapid growth in the Caldor Fire. The showed a massive plume growing above a thick forest. The column rose, and dark smoke poured across the sky before the cloud erupted in flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air. “It wasn’t a slow deal,” Hawkins said. “When you see one of those developers that fast in heavy timber and already see another dozen running crazy, it doesn’t take much to light your lightbulb or ring your bell.”
Ten of the state’s largest and 13 of the most destructive wildfires in the top 20 have burned in the last four years. The largest of those fires, the August Complex, a group of lightning-sparked blazes that merged, began a year ago this . The deadliest and most destructive, the Camp Fire, killed 85 and in November 2018. In the past, have been dominant in late summer. In the fall, in chaparral and woodlands, driven by powerful dry winds created by high pressure over the Great Basin, said Malcolm North, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service.
The offshore winds, known as Diablos inand Santa Anas in Southern California, usually have powered some of the worst blazes. They sap moisture vegetation and pick up speed as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons, becoming warmer and drier. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, southern California could expect to see fires in September that could last to the end of the year. Ith much of , the highest intensity, large fires in the North could burn into early December, said Anthony Scardina, deputy regional forester for the Forest Service.
Erratic infernos like the Creek Fire fires will behave don’t cover this because it’s just off the charts. It’s hazardous to firefighters and hard as hell to predict what it’s going to do.”, the fifth-biggest ever, could partly be blamed on a 2012-16 drought. It is estimated to have killed more than 100 million trees in the , the state’s largest mountain range and the setting for many of the fires, North said. North was co-author of a 2018 scientific paper that predicted Sierra wildfires could burn at the intensity of blazes lit by fire bombings in Dresden, Germany, and Tokyo during II. “I think that’s what we’re seeing,” said North. “Our current models for how
Fires have intensified across the entire West, creating a nearly year-round season that has taxed firefighters. Fire patterns used to migrate in seasons from the Southwest to the Rockies, to the, and then California, allowing fire crews to move from one place to the next, Scardina said. “But the problem is all those seasons are starting to overlap,” Scardina said. “We start to get stretched thin.” As the Caldor inferno erupted, firefighters were diverted from the Dixie Fire. Repositioning crews, fire engines, and water- and flame-retardant-dropping aircraft takes time, allowing newer blazes to advance and leaving . “Every time a new one starts, it’s like going to Toys R Us on Christmas Eve expecting to get a gift,” Hawkins said, “and finding nothing on the shelf.”