location - California, United States.
California in the United States usually has the worst of its fire season in September or October. However, this year’s season has started earlier and is extremely intense. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) says that there have been over 700 fires between August 15 and 26, burning 1.3 million acres of land! In just 12 days, this is two-thirds as much as what was burned in the whole of 2018, which was the worst year ever. What is causing this year’s uncontrollable wildfires? The climate crisis.
On August 16, Death Valley, a national park in California and Nevada, recorded a preliminary high temperature of 54.4 degrees Celsius. If this is proved to be true, it could be the hottest temperature recorded in the world since 1913!
California is being hit badly by the climate crisis; according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, temperatures in some parts of California have risen by 2°C from 1895- 2018, which is nearly twice as much as the rest of the world.
Conditions in California are also extremely dry, which creates the conditions for even more intense fires. There was a drought in the state that lasted for 8 years- from 2011 to 2019- which killed almost 150 million trees. Unfortunately, the drought has returned, but it doesn’t seem as bad as the previous one.
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This fire season was caused by lightning strikes. For nearly two weeks, California has been dealing with an extreme heat wave. Because this has created very dry conditions, the state was hit by an unusual series of lightning strikes- over two days, California was struck by nearly 11 000 bolts of lightning, starting 367 wildfires. Normally, the state gets about 85 000 lightning strikes a year!
The fires have forced about 175 000 people to evacuate their homes. Many of the fires are small and firefighters are able to put them out, but in many cases, small fires grow together into a much larger group of fires, which is called a “complex.” Firefighters are struggling to put these fires out. The largest group of fires is called the LNU Lightning Complex, made of about 250 fires spread across five counties. LNU covers over 1 224 square kilometers.
Sadly, the COVID-19 virus has stopped California from being able to prevent damage from these fires; earlier this year, the governor suggested spending $100 million to make homes more fire-resistant, by replacing wooden shingles with tiles, for example, but it had to be cancelled because of the virus.
California has asked for help and equipment from nearby states in America, and even from Canada and Australia. Some states are helping, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
The smoke caused by the wildfires has raised pollution to unsafe levels. In some areas of California, the Air Quality Index was reported as “very unhealthy.”