We Have a Gigafire Burning: First Fire of this Size in Modern History

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Photograph: Noah Berger/AP

California has a long history of wildfires, the oldest of which date all the way back to 1932. These wildfires over the past few decades have been hitting more frequently and way harder forming bigger fire complexes. This year so far has been the worst year for California’s wildfires. 

Right now there is a fire in California that has burned more than 1 million acres, called a gigafire, and is still burning; that’s basically as big as Rhode Island. This is the first fire of this size ever recorded in modern history. It shouldn’t be a surprise; the 10 biggest wildfires that have occurred in California have happened in the 2000s. 

According to fire.ca.gov, The 2018 wildfire season in California was its deadliest and most destructive wildfire season burning over 1.6 Million acres of land. That was only in a single year in California, that was unpresidented until now.

California’s current wildfire season so far has burned a little over 4 Million acres of land! That’s more than double what was on record for California’s worst wildfire season only 2 years prior. California is pretty good at setting and breaking it’s own wildfire records. But, why has California’s wildfire seasons only been getting worse and worse with no sign of improvement any time soon?

The culprit is climate change. California is as vulnerable as it is to wildfires because as summer comes, California’s vegetation begins to slowly dry out due to lack of rainfall and much warmer temperatures. Add climate change to that, and the vegetation gets much drier and these warmer temperatures that exist get even warmer just making the state even more vulnerable to wildfires than it already was. Not only does climate change add on to already existing wildfire conditions, it can also extend the distance that these wildfires burn for and also add on a few days to the wildfire season.

According to the LA Times, California’s summers are currently 2.5-3 degrees fahrenheit warmer than they were in the 1970s, and scientists believe that by the end of the century these temperatures will ramp up an additional 4.5 degrees fahrenheit. 

The wildfires from the 2020 wildfire season in California have been burned so much that the smoke from these fires have made the air quality absolutely drop, and caused so much smoke that it has reached as far as the Netherlands.

According to NASA, the massive fires have brought an unbelievable amount of pollutants into the air. NASA satellite readings taken in early September show amounts of concentrated carbon monoxide that is more than 10 times above normal. Carbon monoxide can stay within the atmosphere for about a month at most and can travel very large distances.  The air quality has affected central and northern parts of California.

California’s wildfires have always been pretty bad, but over these recent decades the wildfires have been slowly, yet consistently, growing in size and time burning. Things only seem to be getting worse.

Humans aren’t doing much to try and counteract our climate change causing behaviors. Hopefully the extremes of these fires put into perspective how serious climate change currently is and how scary it has the potential to become.