With 106 wildfires raging across the West Coast, California, Oregon, and Washington bear the burdens of five million charred acres. According to CBS, the fires killed at least 35 people as of September 15, while terrified citizens continue to evacuate. Causes for the fires vary–from a gender reveal party gone haywire to an overwhelming heat wave–but all relate to similar overarching themes.
New records are being set by the current wildfires, as seen in the SCU and LNU Lightning Complex fires. These blazes, which are the third and fourth largest in California’s history, follow a repetitive pattern according to CalFire Battalion Chief Sean Norman.
“It’s a historic season on top of a historic season that replaced a historic season,” Norman stated in an interview with Associated Press. “We just keep setting new precedents, and then we keep destroying them.”
Poor forest management is an underlying cause for some of the fires. According to BBC, a number of uncut dead trees and lack of prescribed burns have made deadly contributions to the flames. USA Today explained that the practice of prescribed burns, controlled fires set to clear small areas of land, was stopped because residents felt uncomfortable with the prospect of fires near their homes. Additionally, a large number of citizens moved from urban areas to forests, increasing wildfire risk near flammable material, destruction of property from fire, and difficulty controlling prescribed burns.
In addition to the forest management issues, climate change plays a significant role in the disasters. California occupies a naturally flammable environment, University of Colorado fire scientist Jennifer Balch told ABC 7. In a naturally flammable ecosystem, presenting the environment with burned fossil fuels can dry out plants furthermore.
“Science is very clear that there is a direct link between warming and more burning,” Balch said. Additionally, a research article from Yale found that a rise in average global temperatures results in drier soil for longer periods of time during summer and spring. Dry soil entangled with dry plants sets the stage for an ultimate flaming disaster.
Outside of California’s scientific structure, controversy arises in the political response to the fires. President Donald Trump refuses to accept climate change’s effect on the situation, stating in a briefing, “I don’t think science knows.” Trump believes poor forest management is the primary cause–although a majority of California’s forests are managed federally, according to LA Times.
California Governor Gavin Newsom disagreed with Trump during the briefing, telling the president, “Please respect, and I know you do, to the difference of opinion out here as it relates to this fundamental issue of climate change.”
Despite initial threats to withhold funding, Trump has declared the fires as a major disaster and provided federal aid.
In more positive news, California’s August Complex was 28% contained as of September 13. The SCU and LNU Lightning Complexes stand 98% and 96% contained, inspiring hope and gratefulness towards thousands of firefighters who continue battling the flames.