Over the past few days, social media has been filled with pictures of strangely orange skies coming out of western parts of the United States resembling scenes right out of the apocalyptic setting of Hollywood movie Blade Runner 2049.
This has happened due to the immense amount of smoke and ash, created from wildfires raging across the state of California, which has now razed out more than 2 million acres of land and displaced at least 64,000 people. According to a state run body, this year has seen 6 of the 20 worst wildfires in Californian history.
The 2020 fire season has been record-breaking, in not only the total amount of acres burned at just over 3 million, but also 6 of the top 20 largest wildfires in California history have occurred this year. pic.twitter.com/CmmhH5wTVX— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) September 10, 2020
Why are Californian fires so devastating?
This is not the first time the state has seen devastation from wildfires - it is becoming more and more common. In fact, the fires this year broke a record made no less two years ago - which saw a loss of more than $16 billion in property damage.
The reasons for such devastation is simple, climate change and human activities have compounded such fire incidents, making them more and more monstrous over the years.
August 2020 was the warmest August on record for not just California, but also for other neighbouring states like Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. In September, it got worse.
The first week of September saw a blazing heatwave strike the west coast with record breaking temperatures. On September 6, Los Angeles County recording its highest ever temperature at 49°C, with neighbouring counties seeing temperatures surpassing 45°C.
The heatwaves have further dried up the dense vegetation in the west, turning it into a tinder box and creating the perfect setting for wildfires to start - and this has a lot to do with the unprecedented scale of climate change.
According to California Governer Gavin Newsom's Strike Force report on wildfires, climate change has severely intensified wildfires which are naturally occurring phenomena.Due to climate change, wildfire seasons have started lasting longer, sometimes even until autumn. According to a study, the annual burned area in the state has increased more that fivefold since the 1970s, and is now rising faster than ever.
While rising temperatures are responsible for creating dry weather, it is usually human activities that lights the spark. Faulty power lines have reportedly been listed as one of the major causes of wildfires.
The current wildfire incident in California has reportedly been caused by a pyrotechnic device used at a gender reveal party.
The indigenous people of California have used fire to burn away overgrown vegetation, and keep the forests contained. According to this practice, small and controlled forest fires just before the onset of monsoon would prevent the occurrences of larger wildfires
This practice has been long banned by the United States government for ever a century, which has led to a massive increase in vegetation, and subsequent increase in the scale of wildfires.
How To End This?
Increased landscape management would be required to understand and contain the extent of such wildfires, but the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down every effort to do so.
While fire retardants have been used to douse some of the fires, wildfires by nature are nearly impossible to stop, unless it hits water bodies or already burnt land.
Wildfires are naturally occurring, and cannot be contained. Instead, as National Geographic explains, humans need to account for this phenomena, stop suppressing seasonal fires, and keep all activities away from such regions.
Updated On: 2020-09-16T17:46:27+05:30