California’s wildfires surpassed a grim milestone Sunday, more than doubling the size of last year’s blazes — though the fire season is still far from over.
More than 4 million acres — or 6,250 square miles — of the Golden State has been scorched so far in 2020, an area larger than the entire state of Connecticut.
“The 4 million mark is unfathomable. It boggles the mind, and it takes your breath away,” said Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, also known as Cal Fire. The previous record was set in 2018, when fires burned 1.67 million acres.
As of October 4, the fires have killed 31 people and destroyed 8,454 structures, according to the agency’s daily briefing.
One fire, the August Complex in Tehama County and Mendocino National Forest, is currently California’s largest single wildfire since the state began collecting data in the 1930s. The August Complex has consumed 970,563 acres by itself — and is only listed as 54 percent contained as of Sunday evening.
There may be hope on the horizon for firefighters battling that blaze, according to Cal Fire officials — but it will be several days for a “cooling trend” in California to slowly take hold.
“We are seeing some relief in the weather, but it’s going to be three of four days before it really makes a difference on the fire,” Cal Fire meteorologist Tom Bird said at a news briefing on Sunday.
“The one good thing going forward, we’re not expecting any wind events to push into the fire.”
Although many people have started returning to their homes, more than 30,000 individuals are still under evacuation orders — including the entire population of the Napa County town of Calistoga.
Experts say rising temperatures due to global warming are largely to blame for the increasing devastation of California’s wildfires.
According to a study conducted by researchers at UCLA and Stanford and cited by Scientific American, average temperatures in California in the last 40 years have risen 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, while average precipitation has decreased by 30 percent during the same time period.
“This is an unprecedented year and the thing is there’s no vaccine for wildfires,” said Mike Flannigan, the director of the Canadian Partnership for Wildland Fire Science at Canada’s University of Alberta.
“We’re going to have to learn to live with wildfires and the associate smoke.”
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