Story at a glance
- Cal Fire reports that the August Complex Fire has consumed over 1 million acres across multiple Northern California counties.
- Officials say climate change is exacerbating wildfires.
After this year's rampant California wildfires consumed a record 4 million acres, the embattled state saw another record: 1 million acres burned by a single fire.
Cal Fire confirmed that the August Complex Fire has consumed 1,006,140 acres of land in the state. The massive fire is 58 percent contained, but has been active since Aug. 16. The counties it has scorched through include Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity, Tehama, Lake, Colusa and Glenn — all located in Northern California.
Multiple evacuation orders and warnings have been issued in each of these counties. Most recently, Trinity County, located north of the Mendocino National Forest, has been issued evacuation warnings as firefighters work to improve containment lines in the region.
The San Francisco Chronicle writes that the August Complex Fire initially began as 37 individual fires, and contributed to one of California’s most destructive wildfire seasons, with thousands of homes damaged or destroyed and 31 fatalities.
Factors that have perpetuated the fire include dry atmospheric conditions, high temperatures and substantial fuel loads including dry brush and vegetation.
As indicated by its name, the August Complex Fire was born from lightning storms in mid-to-late August. Strong winds, high fuel loads and hot temperatures abetted the flames. While firefighter teams slowly made progress containing the flames, the weather patterns aligned to propagate the fire’s spread.
The increasing severity of wildfires in the U.S. have been linked to climate change, with organizations including the Union of Concerned Scientists noting that the number of wildfires has been increasing since at least 1985, and fires have been consuming more land over time as well.
In a dangerous cycle, more carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere as forests burn, adding to the greenhouse gas effect that results in hotter global temperatures. In turn, these warmer temperatures increase the likelihood fires will start.
Disaster declarations have been approved by state and federal authorities, with about 1,735 emergency personnel deployed to the August Complex Fire alone. President Trump and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) recently announced a collaborative effort to increase forest management targeted at clearing dry vegetation and brush that can aid the spread of wildfires.
Newsom also submitted evidence of climate change, such as severe droughts and soaring temperatures, and other components that contributed to the recent strength of wildfires.
Trump publicly disagreed with Cal Fire’s head of natural resources, Wade Crowfoot, during a meeting last month in Sacramento with state officials on the effect climate change has on the fires. Crowfoot noted that both summer and winter temperatures have been warmer, saying that while vegetation management is a proactive mitigation effort, addressing climate change is a bigger piece of the puzzle.
“Science is going to be key,” Crowfoot said. “Because if we — if we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.”
“It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch,” Trump said at one point.
“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot replied.
“I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump retorted.
Currently, there are 12 active fires burning in California.