A series of thunderstorms in mid-August 2020 hit Northern California, an area already experiencing a severe drought season, starting what would become known as the August Complex Fire. For nearly three months, it burned through national forests, destroying 935 buildings and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. By the time it was fully confined, its full range was exceeded twice the size California’s previous record and among the largest fires in US history.
Less than a year later, the August complex’s record was nearly broken when the Dixie Fires erupted in Northern California, burning more than 963,000 acres and destroying more than 1,300 structures in the area.
Stacker data quoted from National Interservice Center for Firefighters, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to visualize how the spread of forest fires has worsened in recent years.
New outbreaks of megafires (fires burning more than 100,000 acres) have become a seasonal repeat across the western United States. Wildfires are innate to forest ecosystems, clearing away dead debris and clearing the way for new growth, but climate change extended dry seasons, increased temperatures and expanded the potential for large-scale wildfires. Beyond weather-related factors, the prevalence of insects such as bark beetles damage trees and make them more likely to burn. Invasive vegetation such as cheating also burns easily and helps to spread.
Trees, traditionally a carbon store, release carbon immediately upon combustion and upon decay. The EU’s Copernicus atmosphere monitoring service estimated global forest fires in 2021 released 1,760 megatons carbon emissions, just above what the nation of Russia issued in 2020. black carbonor soot, can also travel beyond areas of wildfire, absorbing sunlight and further warming the earth.
Beyond environmental threats, the growing scope of wildfires threatens the displacement of countless residents. The Marshall Fire in January of this year destroyed over 1,000 households in Colorado, demonstrating the damage a wildfire can cause in a densely populated area like the suburbs. The campfire in 2018 permanently displaced a estimated at 20,000 residents of Butte County, California. Despite this, ppeople continue to move to areas prone to wildfiresexposing a growing population to longer fire seasons and associated health risks.
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