Written by: Erich
Edited by: Sara
Visuals by: Sarah
As the “wildfire season” approaches in the West, individuals from all over the region are faced with the rising issue of raging wildfires. Most of these wildfires are generally started by people, whether it be from unintentional actions such as discarding cigarettes, or intentional acts of arson, but natural factors such as drought, strong winds, high heat, low humidity, and lightning are what help intensify these wildfires. Given these conditions, they can continue to thrive and spread, endangering lives and threatening the environment.
This year, the “Dixie Fire”, currently burning across California, holds the record for the second-largest wildfire in the state’s history (New York Times). So far, there has not been an official report on what caused the Dixie Fire. However, the California utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, has claimed that blown fuses on one of their utility poles may have helped spark the fire. Despite a lack of information on its source of origin, many agree that it’s placing a great number of lives in danger.
At the time of writing, the Dixie Fire has burned 627,000 acres, an area about three-quarters the size of Rhode Island, yet the blazing flames are still far from being extinguished (New York Times). It has been raging ever since the 13th of July, destroying over 1,200 buildings, and despite such large-scale damages, authorities say that only 31% of the fire has been contained (New York Times).
The reason behind this rather slow progress in extinguishing the fire can be attributed to the other wildfires within the area, which firefighters have to work to contain as well. One such fire is the Caldor Fire, which started on the 15th of August in El Dorado County of California. Within the span of 3 days, it burned over 11,000 acres of land and is also yet to be contained (New York Times). Meanwhile, to the west of the Dixie Fire, the McFarland Fire has burned 69,000 acres within 19 days and has been 51% contained at the time of writing. (New York Times).
With so many wildfires raging across the region, it’s hard for firefighters to keep up. But that raises the question: why are these wildfires so hard to contain? The difficulty in containing these wildfires is primarily due to a large number of active wildfires but is also partially due to the conditions that allow these fires to thrive. Their intensity is often enhanced by high temperatures, which leaves regions suffering from drought more vulnerable to large-scale damages. Such conditions have become more common due to the ever-growing issue of climate change. Rapidly increasing temperatures lead to the growth of evaporation rates, influencing the release of moisture from plants. This process, which gives way to the formation of dry regions, helps create “tinderbox conditions” that allow fires to spread rapidly over wide areas.
The correlation between climate change and wildfires seems to become clearer with every passing year. The U.S. Forest Service deployed over 21,000 federal firefighters in 2021, double last year’s deployment numbers in regions parched from drought and humid weather (New York Times). If we fail to prevent the consequences of the incoming climate crisis, these wildfires will only continue to intensify. As such, it is imperative that we are more mindful of our respective contributions to global warming and work together to prevent its effects from becoming irreversible.
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“Explainer: How Climate Change Is Affecting Wildfires around the World.” Carbon Brief, 30 July 2021, http://www.carbonbrief.org/explainer-how-climate-change-is-affecting-wildfires-around-the-world.
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