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California fires break records, double historical average

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And the traditional fire season hasn’t even started yet

Death Toll Rises To 6 As Redding Area Wildfire Spreads To 90,000 Acres
The Carr fire near Redding, July 30.
Photo by Terray Sylvester/Getty Images

The Carr Fire in Shasta County that has killed at least six people and destroyed more than 1,500 structures in and around the city of Redding now ranks as the sixth most destructive wildfire on Cal Fire’s all-time rankings, growing to a size of more than 131,000 acres at the latest count.

Video footage of areas of the wildfire and its aftermath reveal an apocalyptic landscape of red haze, swirling ash, “fire tornadoes,” and other seemingly alien conditions.

And it’s not alone.

As of Thursday morning, Cal Fire is responding to 21 active fires in total, most of them in Northern California, including the ongoing Ferguson Fire that’s been burning around Yosemite National Park for over three weeks and is still less than 40 percent contained.

According to statewide figures updated July 29, the state has responded to approximately 3,770 wildfires since January 1. For the same period in 2017, the total was 3,440. The average over the past five years is 3,405.

As Time explains, July in particular was a grim ordeal, noting, “More than 1,000 wildfires have been sparked in a one-week period in July—that’s more than three times the average 250 or 300 that begin each week at this point in the season.”

Death Toll Rises To 6 As Redding Area Wildfire Spreads To 90,000 Acres Photo by Terray Sylvester/Getty Images

Note that Cal Fire does not respond to every wildfire, so the actual overall total is even higher.

But it’s the size of the fires that really counts: Between 2013 and 2017, California saw an average of more than 118,000 acres burned in Cal Fire incidents during this seven-month period.

So far in 2018, the total acre count is an estimated 292,455, an increase of more than 145 percent.

The Carr Fire alone has proven more destructive than any of the burns in the 2017 NorCal fire season disaster except for the Tubbs Fire that devastated Santa Rosa, which stands as the most destructive fire in California history.

All of these blazes are the long-predicted outcome of a series of bad luck factors for the state, as Vox explained in a recent Carr Fire story:

These fires follow a “global heat wave” of searing, record-setting heat as well as exceptional drought. [...] A lot of variables to converged to create a sweeping conflagration like the Carr Fire, but in short:

1. It’s hot.

2. It’s dry.

3. It’s windy.

4. Just about everything on the ground is flammable.

And the current ordeal stretches firefighting resources past their breaking point: the San Francisco Chronicle reports that, in just the last week, over 900 requests for fire engine intervention in the state went unfulfilled because personnel and equipment were engaged elsewhere.

It’s worth noting that the traditional California fire season usually begins in August. On the one hand, this means that it’s less likely 2018 will actually turn out to be worse than last year in overall fire terms—the year-to-date totals don’t yet include the Wine Country and Santa Rosa burns from last year that many communities are still trying to recover from.

On the other hand, it could mean that 2018 has even more perilous fires ready to spark in the near future.

Death Toll Rises To 6 As Redding Area Wildfire Spreads To 90,000 Acres Photo by Terray Sylvester/Getty Images