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A pregnant woman got work during the evacuation. Videos showed dozens of shattering rides through fiery landscapes. In the social media, complaints were made seeking the whereabouts of relatives. The survivors of a mass shooting had to flee near flames.
This was California since the campfire broke out early Thursday morning, burning 80 hectares a minute, destroying the northern city of Paradise. Later that day, the Woolsey fire broke out in the south of Ventura and the Los Angeles Counties, causing the entire evacuation of Malibu.
What is it about California that makes forest fires so catastrophic? There are four main components.
The (changing) climate
The first is the climate in California.
"In a way, fire is a very simple thing," said Park Williams, bioclimatologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. "As long as the stuff is dry enough and there is a spark, it burns."
California, as in much of the West, has the most moisture in autumn and winter. The vegetation then spends most of the summer drying itself out due to lack of rainfall and warmer temperatures. This vegetation then serves as fire for fire.
While the Californian climate has always been at risk from fire, the relationship between climate change and major fires is inseparable. "Behind all the scenes you have temperatures that are two to three degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they would have been without global warming," Dr. Williams. This dries up the vegetation even more and makes it easier to burn.
California's fire record dates from 1932; Nine of the 10 largest fires since then have occurred since the year 2000, five since 2010 and two this year alone, including the Mendocino Complex Fire. the largest in state history.
"In almost every way, a perfect recipe for California fire is just so written," Dr. Williams. "Nature creates the perfect conditions for the fire as long as people are around to start the fire. But in some ways, climate change also seems to be pushing the dice towards more fire in the future. "
Even if the conditions for wildfire are right, you still need something or someone to set it on fire. Sometimes the trigger is nature, like a lightning strike, but most people are responsible for it.
"Many of these major fires you see in Southern California affecting the areas where humans live are man-made," said Nina S. Oakley, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Research at the Desert Research Institute.
Deadly fires in and around Sonoma County in the past year were triggered by fallen power lines. This year's Carr Fire, the country's sixth largest state, started when a truck blew out its tire and its rim scratched the road and sent out sparks.
"California has a lot of people and a really long dry season," Dr. Williams. "People are always creating sparks, and as the dry season gets longer and the material dries out, the chance of a spark coming from a person at the wrong time is increasing. And that's the arson. "
There is another way in which people have contributed to forest fires: choosing their place of residence. People are increasingly moving in areas near forests known as the interface between the city and the wildlands that tend to burn.
"There are many, many big fires in Nevada, but they usually burn open spaces," Dr. Oakley. "They do not burn through the neighborhoods."
It is not intuitive, but US history of suppressing forest fires has actually worsened the forest fires of the present.
"For the past century, we have been fighting against fire, and we have done quite well in all the western United States," said Dr. Williams. "And every time we've fought successfully against a fire, that means that a pile of things that would have been burned did not burn. So in the last hundred years, we have had an accumulation of plants in many areas.
"And so, all over California, when fires arise, these fires burn in places where far more plants need to be burned than if we have had the fire burn for a hundred years."
In recent years, the United States Forest Service has attempted to correct past practice through mandatory or "controlled" burns.
The Santa Ana winds
Heavy gusts, known as Santa Ana winds, bring dry air from the Great Basin area to southern California each fall, said Fengpeng Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Dr. Sun is co-author of a Study from 2015, suggesting California has two different seasons of fire. One that runs from June to September and is powered by a combination of warmer and dry weather is the western fire season that most people think of. These forest fires tend to be inland in higher forests.
Dr. Sun and his co-authors also identified a second fire season that takes place from October to April and is powered by the winds of Santa Ana. These fires tend to spread three times faster and burn closer to urban areas. They were responsible for 80 percent of the economic losses that occurred in 1990 in two decades.
Not only is the Santa Ana drying out the vegetation. They also move embers and spread fire.
If the rains that normally start in October do not arrive punctually, as they did this year, the winds can make even dry conditions even drier. In an average October, there may be more than two centimeters of rainfall in Northern California, reports Derek Arndt, head of the National Centers for Environmental Information Monitoring Division, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This year, less than half of this amount fell in some places.
"None of this is record-breaking for October, historically dry," Dr. Arndt. "But they are all on the dry side of history."
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