Two people are dead and nine are missing in northern California as an enormous wildfire continued burning Saturday morning, the latest chapter in a deadly and chaotic wildfire season that is on track to be the worst in the state’s history.
More than 38,000 people in Shasta County fled their homes on Thursday as the Carr Fire bore down on the area, including the city of Redding, home to some 90,000 residents. The fire began on Monday following a vehicle mechanical failure but a combination of severe winds and sweltering temperatures have propelled its size and speed, forcing firefighters to battle what some referred to as a fire “tornado” by Thursday.
Around 500 structures have been destroyed by the fire, in addition to the town of Keswick, where around 450 people live. Only mangled boats and bicycles were left in the town, according to one Reuters report, with all residents having fled.
In a message sent early Saturday morning from the Igo Ono Fire Department to residents of Igo, a town near Redding, officials emphasized the need for haste.
“Time to go Igo. The fire is coming down muletown ready to hit placer. Time to go now. Leave Igo take your pets time to go,” the account wrote.
According to CAL FIRE, the Carr Fire was only 5 percent contained as of Saturday and 80,906 acres are impacted. The fire is expected to continue well into next week.
Wildfires are typical in California and many residents are used to annual blazes. But last year’s wildfire season saw record damage and officials are concerned that this year could be even worse. Nearly 300,000 acres have burned so far in 2018, marking the worst wildfire season beginning in a decade for the state.
“We’re seeing fire conditions… and weather conditions like we’ve never seen before,” said Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the state’s Office of Emergency Services. Ghilarducci told BuzzFeed News that the alarming and unexpected scale of the fires is “making this really quite an event to stay out in front of and making sure we have enough resources to address all the needs.”
Around 7,000 firefighters are currently working across California to contain various fires. BuzzFeed reported that between 45 and 50 new fires are sparking daily, endangering people across the Golden State. The fires have also threatened famous national parks, including Yosemite, which is currently closed as a result.
Wildfires are a natural occurrence, but scientists and other experts have linked the increasing severity to climate change, which makes heat and drought more severe — creating hot, dry conditions that are a perfect breeding ground for fires. Across the Western United States, the wildfire season is 105 days longer than it was in the 1970s, according to research from Climate Central, and the average number of large fires burning each year has more than tripled.
In an editorial published Friday evening, the Sacramento Bee also made the connection, proclaiming the 2018 wildfire season to be California’s new reality in a time of global warming.
“This is climate change, for real and in real time,” the publication’s editorial board wrote.
California isn’t alone. Deadly wildfires are currently raging around the country and the world. In addition to California, the states of Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon are also grappling with their own deadly blaze, while much of the wider United States faces a record-shattering heat wave. Across the ocean, Europe is facing its own crisis — nearly 80 people have died in Greece due to wildfires. To the north, Sweden is battling fires in the Arctic Circle that are burning so brightly they can be seen from space at night.