California's devastating wildfires are part of a larger trend — here's how much worse it has gotten

  • The Carr Fire tearing through Redding, California is part of an alarming trend: wildfires in the state are getting worse
  • Since the year 2000, California has seen 14 of the 20 largest wildfires in the state’s history.
  • California spent $US505 million fighting fires in 2017, and fire-related costs will likely continue to go up in the future.

The wildfires scorching California are part of a worsening trend.

The Carr Fire that’s currently tearing through Redding, a city of 92,000 in northern California, is already the ninth most destructive fire in the state’s history, according to Cal Fire, California’s fire agency.

Last year, a series of wildfires burned through the state, claiming lives and destroying millions of dollars worth of property.

According to an analysis from the nonprofit Climate Nexus, the fire in Redding, along with the series of wildfires that devastated the state last year, are part of a larger trend: 14 of the 20 largest fires in California’s history have occurred since the year 2000.

Climate change is primarily to blame – which means it’s only going to get worse.

Because of rising temperatures and more drought, the average wildfire season now lasts at least 2 1/2 months longer than it did in the early 1970s. The amount of land that has burned in the western US since 1984 is double what would have been expected without the effects of climate change.

The largest fire in California’s history was the Rush Fire, which burned 271,911 acres in 2012. The Thomas Fire in Ventura County, which burned over 230,500 acres last December, ranks as the fifth largest in state history (since records were kept).

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown called the wildfires a “new normal” for California.

“This could be something that happens every year or every few years,” Brown said, per The Los Angeles Times.

The Carr Fire wouldn’t rank as one of the California’s 20 biggest fires ever. As of Tuesday, the fire had engulfed just over 100,000 acres. But it’s only 23% contained, and triple-digit temperatures and a lack of precipitation in the forecast could cause the fire to grow.

Of California’s 20 biggest fires, these are the fourteen that have happened since the year 2000, according to Climate Nexus:

  • December 2017: Thomas, 230,500 acres
  • September 2016: Soberanes, 132,127 acres
  • July 2015: Rough, 151,623 acres
  • August 2014: Happy Camp Complex, 134,056 acres
  • August 2013: Rim, 257,314 acres
  • August 2012: Rush, 271,911 acres
  • August 2009: Station 160,557 acres
  • June 2008: Klamath Theatre Complex, 192,038 acres
  • June 2008: Basin Complex, 162,818 acres
  • October 2007: Witch, 197,990 acres
  • July 2007: Zaca, 240,207 acres
  • September 2006: Day, 162,702 acres
  • October 2003: Cedar, 273,246 acres
  • July 2002: McNally, 150,696 acres

Between 1930 and 1999, there were only six fires that burned over 100,000 acres in California, according to Climate Nexus.

As larger fires burn in the state, fire-related expenditures are also increasing. Climate Nexus calculated that in the 2017 fiscal year (which ended in October), California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spent a total of $US505 million fighting fires across the state. Twenty years ago, in 1997, the state spent only $US47 million.

California’s Soberanes wildfire in 2016 set the record for the costliest firefight in US history, with the state spending $US260 million to battle the blaze.

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