Extreme hurricanes up and down the eastern seaboard, temperatures above 120 degrees in Europe, and wildfires seemingly always raging in California — all of these are hallmarks of climate change. Right now, in fact, the biggest fire in modern California history has engulfed hundreds of thousands of acres — and this is only months after the last fire to set a record as the biggest in the state's modern history.
According to CNN, the two fires that make up the Mendocino Complex Fire currently burning in Northern California have taken over 283,800 acres, or 443 square miles, spread across several different counties. CNN reported that the fire grew 80 percent in size since Friday, and it's only 30 percent contained. For those who live or work in the area, that's not good news. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire, has evacuated the area surrounding the fire, and CNN wrote that no one has yet been killed in the fire — but it's far from over.
This fire would be alarming for residents and onlookers on its own, but it's even more so given the fact that the previous biggest fire in California history, which it eclipsed once it hit 281,893 acres, happened just this past December. According to CNN, the Thomas Fire became the biggest fire since Cal Fire began tracking that data in 1932 when it was blazing in December.
The direct cause of the fire is still unknown, as NBC News reported, but the weather conditions are a large part of why it's spread so far, so quickly. This summer in California has been very hot and dry, according to NBC News, and this fire has been spurred on by a high pressure weather system in the area that made things hotter, drier, and windier — all conditions that make it easier for fire to spread.
While the current weather conditions in a given area don't always give you accurate information about how the climate is changing, the hot and dry conditions currently reigning in California are a result of climate change in the area, as Pacific Standard described. The area has gotten less rain than it used to, and the temperatures have risen, which simply makes it more likely that wildfires will start and then burn for a longer time.
According to the Independent, this current trend of frequent, huge wildfires will only intensify as the climate continues its shift.
“What we’re seeing over the last few years in terms of the wildfire season in California … [is] very consistent with the historical trends in terms of increasing temperatures, increasing dryness, and increasing wildfire risk,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth System Science at Stanford University, speaking with the Independent. “They’re also very consistent with what we can expect in the future as global warming continues.”
In order to stop wildfires before they begin, people can learn fire safety and be careful with, for example, equipment that might create sparks or campfires. In December, US News wrote that California will also start more "controlled burns," which purposefully burn dead, dry wood and brush that might otherwise fuel a wildfire. However, these efforts are not a fix for the underlying climate issues that will continue to make wildfires worse in the future.