California’s 2018 is officially the worst year for wildfires in recorded state history, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday, citing the National Interagency Coordination Center’s year-end statistical analysis. The 1.8 million acres of California land that burned last year was more than any other state in 2018, and it far surpassed 2017’s tally of 1.3 million acres in California. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Scott McLean confirmed to the Times that the wildfires were unprecedented.
The Times wrote:
More than 100 people were killed and 17,000 homes and 700 businesses were destroyed in a state where fires are considered one of the annual seasons. Crews responded to more than 8,000 fires last year.
“It’s a surprise it’s that amount, but in a sense because of what I’ve seen over the last year, no it’s not,” McLean said. “It’s what we’ve been living through.”
… Firefighters said the most devastating blazes had the most extreme behavior—wind-driven ember storms that created spot fires far beyond defensive lines and, in the case of the Carr fire, a “fire tornado” that ignited objects lifted into the air.
Many of the recorded deaths happened during the Camp Fire, which rampaged across Butte County and killed some 86 people, mainly as it rolled through the town of Paradise and burned most of it to the ground. The Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire, both in November, burned more than 250,000 acres alone, the Times noted.
After a seven-year drought from 2010 to 2017, much of California remains a tinderbox with estimates that there are over 147 million dead trees throughout the state. The end of the drought poses its own problems, as fast-growing grasses and other small plants can dry out and catch flame themselves, carrying blazes right to other sources of fuel. California’s rapidly growing population (which has almost doubled since the 1970s) has also brought many more communities into areas at high risk of fires.
Recent research has also indicated that the historical distinction between the December-February wet season and the fire season has largely disappeared, in part due to climate change.
Last year, Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott told the AP that the state government should consider a ban on building homes in potentially fire-prone areas, saying: “Firefighters are living climate change, it’s staring them in the face everyday.” He added that officials “owe it” to residents and emergency personnel alike to make such decisions, “so that they don’t have to keep going through what we’re going through.”