Forest fires are a natural part of the ecosystem and nothing new in themselves. But the massive destruction from forest fires we are currently witnessing is a relatively new phenomenon that is accelerating rapidly due to climate change and human activities.
Scientists loosely date our current "megafire era" as August 1988, when a series of small fires in Yellowstone National Park erupted into a single, furious firestorm. Megafires – those in which a single fire burns more than 100,000 acres of land – were quite rare prior to this event. However, as National Geographic reports, they have become far more common over the past few decades.
One of the reasons for the rapid rise in destructive fires is rising temperatures in California. According to Climate Central, the region has warmed by an average of two degrees since the 1980s. This warming has directly increased evaporation rates, which means more parched soil and vegetation – a popular fuel for fires.
“Each degree of warming causes a lot more fire than the previous level of warming. And that's a really big deal, "Columbia University climate researcher A. Park Williams told The Atlantic in 2019.
Williams was part of a group of scientists working on a study that found that the average area burned by forest fires in California is now five times what it was in 1972, at which point they found the five-year moving average for that Fire destruction worked out on 236 square miles per year. By 2019, when the study was completed, that same baseline had risen to 1,394 square miles.
More than 3,900 square miles have already been burned this year, with many more expected in the coming weeks.
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