The 2014 wildfire season got off to a ferocious start in southern California and northwestern Mexico when record-breaking temperatures and powerful Santa Ana winds fuelled several fires. As of May 15, brush fires in California had burned 9,000 acres (3,600 hectares), destroyed 30 homes, and forced thousands of people to evacuate.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite detected several fires north of San Diego on May 14, 2014. MODIS also observed large fires burning in the Baja California region of Mexico. Red outlines indicate hot spots where the sensor detected unusually warm surface temperatures associated with fires. Winds blew thick plumes of smoke west over the Pacific Ocean.
Drought has plagued the western United States — especially central and southern California — for months, priming the vegetation for wildfires. By mid-May, the entire state faced drought ranging from severe to exceptional, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. To break the drought, most of the state would need 9 to 15 inches (23 to 38 centimeters) of precipitation to fall in one month, explained Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters. That would amount to more than a half-year’s worth of precipitation for most of the state.
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