California’s worst fires yet


Ruslana Fogler, Staff Writer

This year, California has endured multiple devastating, record-breaking fires amidst a deadly pandemic. Over 7,600 wildfires have been burning across the state, five of which are the largest recorded in state history: the August Complex, the SCU Lightning Complex, the LNU Lightning Complex, the North Complex, and the Bear Complex. A combination of frequent, historic heat waves and intense, dry winds have continuously exacerbated the wildfires, and areas all over California have been experiencing apocalyptic, Mars-like skies.

Causes of the fire this year range from sudden natural phenomena to human activities. While some fires began earlier in June, the most massive wildfires, such as the August Complex and Mendocino Complex, were ignited when a mid-August thunderstorm struck parts of Northern California and Bay Area. Others were triggered by people, such as the El Dorado Fire, which was caused by the proverbial pyrotechnic accident from a gender-reveal party. Power transmission lines or equipment use in areas of dry vegetation have reportedly caused fires as well. 

In 2020 alone, a total of 7,606 wildfires have killed 26 people and destroyed over 6,700 structures. Although the fire season is still only beginning, a record-breaking 3.2 million acres have already been scorched by the flames. Scientists fear that the start of Santa Ana and Diablo winds could worsen the situation, as fires are reaching more populated areas. Smog arising from the wildfires has also culminated into California’s worst air quality in decades. Smoke particles are also responsible for the ominous skies. Since ash and smoke filter out higher frequencies of light(green, violet, blue, etc.), the sky takes on a shade of red, orange, and yellow light. These particles can also raise susceptibility to cancer and penetrate deep into people’s lungs, resulting in anything from irritated eyes to chronic heart or lung diseases.

Fires have been particularly common and huge in 2020 due to California’s unprecedented hot temperatures and increasingly volatile weather conditions in past years. A 2019 paper in Earth’s Future, a transdisciplinary scientific journal,  stated that California’s annual burned area has quintupled in size since 1972. Although growing in frequency, fires have always been a part of California’s ecosystems. But because hot seasons are growing longer due to global warming, fire containment and management has escalated in difficulty. Furthermore, projections of further temperature increase paint a harrowing vision of California’s future; a 2014 to 2015 study of population trends in California displays that nearly 650,000 new homes in the state will be in “very high” wildfire severity zones. 

To reduce the extent of fire damage in the future, naturally, more efforts to prevent climate change must be bolstered. Reduction of emissions and adaptation to the adverse, perilous climate must be accomplished. In addition to providing more funding to firefighting efforts, California must also make more notable advances in fire-conscious architecture strategies. Thankfully, California has committed to ambitious goals regarding climate such as total clean energy and carbon neutrality by 2045: California Governor Gavin Newson has made wider engagements with the state legislature to raise funding for fire prevention efforts, but more steps must be taken if we are to better enable communities and people to confront wildfires. 

For further information on the ranges of fire damage in California :  

Photo credit: AP Photo/ Noah Berger