For many in the western United States, last year’s fire season was monstrous. It’s been a year of toxic smoke, dangerous air quality and, for some, “go bags” in preparation for evacuation. Not to mention the menacing red and orange midday sky caused by forest fire smoke particles. But as bad as last year’s fire season was, scientists believe this year could get worse.
This should not play down the events of the past year. The 2020 fire season burned 10.3 million acres in the west – which cost about $ 150 billion and claimed 47 lives. Five of the six largest fires in the state’s history occurred in California last year. At the top of that list is the massive fire at the August Complex. Struck by lightning, the fire burned over 1 million acres, an area larger than Rhode Island. Recently, the National Park Service found a giant sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park that is still floating from the 2020 castle fire. The difference between 2020 and 2021 is that there is now more fuel.
Due to the effects of global warming, parts of the United States have historically low rainfall. The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) reports that between April and March, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah had the driest period in 126 years. For California, it was the third driest April through March in recorded state history, while it was the fourth driest for Colorado. Some scientists believe the area is in a mega-drought, a condition that can last up to 20 years. The drought contributes to low soil moisture and dry vegetation – optimal conditions for wildfire. Add in a bark beetle infestation that kills millions of trees weakened by the drought, and it’s like the West is sitting on a huge pile of dry kindling.
“None of us are naive about the challenges this state is facing, essentially the entire western US,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom about the coming year.
In fact, Newsom state’s fire season has already started. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) has reported 2,504 fires on more than 15,000 acres this year. With the weather getting drier and warmer, the Fire Weather Research Laboratory at San Jose State University may best have the situation in a Twitter post on Jan.
“The 2021 fire season looks bleak.”
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