This summer’s wildfires probably feel like a distant memory to most people. But heading into November, fire season is still in full swing — and California is facing not one, but three late-season fires.
The rapidly-spreading Camp Fire erupted Thursday and overnight effectively devastated the entire town of Paradise, home to 27,000 people northeast of San Francisco. First reported at 6:30 in the morning, by noon the fire was spreading an astonishing 80 acres per minute. As of Friday morning it had burned 20,000 acres.
“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, it’s that kind of devastation,” the AP reported CALFIRE Captain Scott McLean saying. “The wind that was predicted came and just wiped it out.”
Photos and video circulating online Thursday showed traffic jams surrounded by walls of fire and thick clouds as residents fled their homes.
While southern California can expect fires this late into the season, it’s a rarity so far north. Powerful winds combined with very little rain in the past six months and low-humidity, has made for “unprecedented” conditions, Redding TV meteorologist Rob Elvington said.
Known as Diablo winds in the north, and Santa Ana in the south, the powerful high-pressure air builds in Nevada and Utah before it hits lower-pressure air systems over California. As the air descends, it compresses to become hotter and drier. At the same time, it picks up speed with gusts up to 70 miles per hour.
Experts are connecting these increasingly intense wildfires to climate change. Some research suggests climate change may be affecting the Diablo and Santa Ana winds, but it’s unclear to what extent. Regardless, with hotter temperatures and persisting, dryer conditions, there’s more fuel for the fire — making them bigger and more expensive to fight. Adding strong winds to this situation simply helps to fan the flames ever higher.
“We’re not saying that climate change is literally causing the events to occur. What we can conclude with a great deal of confidence now is that climate change is making these events more extreme,” climate scientist Michael Mann told ABC News this summer.
— Matt Johnson (@Swirle13isme) November 8, 2018
At the same time as the Camp Fire, some 75,000 homes were also evacuated due to the Woolsey Fire just north of Los Angeles. Spreading across 8,000 acres, the evacuations have been described as “unprecedented for the area,” LA Bureau chief Jon Passantino tweeted.
At the same time, it took just 12 minutes for the Hill Fire — burning just 9 miles away from the Woolsey Fire — to jump Highway 101, consuming 10,000 acres.
The full extent of the damage is still being assessed and as of Friday morning the fires were “zero percent contained.” The three fires, all fueled by intense seasonal winds, add to an already unprecedented fire season this year.
It wasn’t just the United States, though. Greece and Sweden also experienced intense fires. And all of these wildfires come as the world is experiencing ongoing record-breaking temperatures and increased greenhouse gas emissions.