Firefighters are still working to fully contain a massive wildfire that broke out Sunday afternoon in central Oklahoma, forcing the evacuation of about 1,000 people and killing one.
As of Monday, officials said they had contained approximately 75 percent of the blaze, which has so far burned across at least 4,000 acres of land. The fire broke out when a controlled burn spun out of control, with winds in the area reaching 33 miles per hour and temperatures rising to near-100 degrees on Monday. At least six homes have been destroyed.
Watch the Today Show’s report on the blaze here:
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This and other blazes sparking up around the country are part of the beginning of wildfire season in the United States, which generally starts in April and continues through July, with different areas of the country experiencing different levels of risk during different months.
Oklahoma — especially the Western side — is expected to have a worse-than-normal wildfire season this year due to a drought that has remained “severe to exceptional” over most of the southwestern quarter of the United States this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Though it can’t be said that climate change causes wildfires to happen, it is widely agreed in the scientific community that Western wildfires can be intensified by human-caused climate change. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a conservative panel which draws from the expertise of more than 800 scientists around the world, recently cited medium-to-high confidence that human-caused climate change is causing longer and more intense heat waves, and says it is “more likely than not” that it is causing longer and more intense droughts in many regions. Drought, coupled with extreme heat and low humidity, can increase the risk of wildfires, the IPCC says.
In the last 30 years in the western United States, both the number of fires and the area that they burn have increased, according to a recent study by the American Geophysical Union. That study looked at the 17-state region stretching from Nebraska to California, and found that wildfires larger than 1,000 acres have increased by about seven fires a year from 1984 to 2011. It also found that the amount of area these fires burned increased each year at about 140 square miles, or 90,000 acres, per year.
As of Friday, there were 35 wildfires classified as “large” actively burning in the United States, according to the U.S. Forest Service. That number was up from last Friday, when 29 large fires actively burned.