The Southern California fires are part of an incredibly long and destructive wildfire season


California wildfires December 2017
Some
live stock animals try to keep away from the flames after an
early-morning Creek Fire broke out in the Kagel Canyon area in
the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles.

REUTERS/Gene Blevins

  • The devastating wildfires tearing through Southern
    California are happening during an especially bad fire season
    out west.
  • Earlier this year, California saw its deadliest fire
    disaster in history.
  • These fires are worse than normal at least partially
    because it has been so hot and dry in California during what
    should be the wet season.


Wildfires
are tearing across Southern
California
, forcing more than 200,000 people to flee from
their homes in and around
Los Angeles and Ventura counties
.

It’s an out-of-control situation and only getting worse, with
peak fire conditions expected to last through at least Saturday,

according to the National Weather Service
.

These devastating blazes come in a particularly bad year for
fires. Earlier this fall, Northern California
experienced the deadliest fire disaster
in state history.
And throughout the west, it has been a disturbingly
destructive and long wildfire season.

“This one, in particular, has been a longer season. It really
hasn’t stopped since the fall of 2016,” Chris Wilcox of the
National Interagency Fire Center told
NPR’s Linda Wertheimer
 on Weekend Edition in September.

As the ongoing disaster in Southern California shows, things
haven’t let up. For those looking for an explanation of what’s
making the season so bad, there are a number of factors. It’s the
season that wildfires typically break out in Southern California.
But exceptionally hot and dry conditions combined with normal
factors have put parts of the state into “uncharted territory”
when it comes to fire risk, according to a presentation by
Alex Tardy
of the National Weather Service San Diego Office.

What’s making this such a bad year for fires

Normally, high-pressure weather systems force winds to whip down
through Southern California in the fall and winter. These Santa
Ana winds typically peak in December or January, according to
Tardy’s presentation. This year, they’re particularly intense,
with
more than 80 mph winds spreading blazes
 far faster than
they can be contained.


california fires
Embers
blow from a tree shortly before it fell down near burned cars as
strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near
Santa Paula, California.

REUTERS/David
McNew


“There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds,”
California Fire said about the Thursday forecast, Los Angeles
Times reporter Joe
Serna said on Twitter
.

What’s unusual about this year is that the region has seen one of
the hottest and driest starts ever to what should be the wet
season.

Temperatures are about 15 degrees above normal for this time of
year, according to meteorologist Eric Holthaus, who
recently reported
that Los Angeles has received just 0.11
inches of rain since October 1.

While a number of factors may have played a role in the specific
weather patterns seen over Southern California over the past few
months, in general, experts say that climate change has played a
role in making wildfire season longer and more extreme.

The amount of land burned in the US since 1984 is double
what would have been expected without the effects of climate
change in that period, according to one
study
. And the average wildfire season in the west now
lasts at
least two and a half months longer
 than it did in the
early 1970s, according to WXshift, a project of Climate Central.

In California, scientists have reported that climate change
exacerbated
the multi-year drought
that ended when the rains came last
winter. Those rains created an abundance of new growth that then
dried out over an exceptionally hot summer. New growth tends to
be brushy and flammable — and it can be blown a long way, which
spreads fires further and creates new ones. All of that new
vegetation plus older trees that never received enough moisture
to fully recover from the drought made for a bumper crop of fire
fuel.

Right now, the National Weather Service expects critical
conditions to continue through at least the weekend. But it’ll
likely be some time before there’s any rain in the region. As of
Tuesday, the Global Forecast System didn’t
show any measurable precipitation
in the state of California
for at least 16 days.

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