The Record Breaking Fires of California are Not Slowing down Anytime Soon

The Record Breaking Fires of California are Not Slowing down Anytime Soon

The fire at the Mendocino Complex is now the largest fire in the history of California in terms of the area burned and it is expected to grow even more in the coming days.

Earth is considered a highly flammable planet given its atmospheric oxygen, widespread lightening and volcanic ignitions, spells of extremely dry climate, and carbon-rich vegetation. A fire in an area of combustible vegetation is called a wildfire. The analysis of fossil charcoal shows that these fires have always accompanied terrestrial plants for the last 420 million years. Due to this connection, a lot of experts believe that these wildfires have made a revolutionary impact on most of the ecosystems. The severity of these fires is determined by a combination of factors including physical characteristics, available fuels, and the weather conditions (most important).

For a wildfire to take place, all the elements of a fire triangle must combine in a susceptible area. This means that a source of ignition needs to make a contact with a combustible material which must have a sufficient supply of oxygen. Generally, content with high levels of moisture is not ideal for combustion as it tends to hinder the burning process and slows the propagation of these fires. The reason for this is pretty obvious that higher temperatures are needed to evaporate any water within that material and heat it to its burning point. Similarly, dense forests are less vulnerable to wildfires because they offer more shade and greater humidity. On the other hand, materials like grass and leaves are easier to burn due to the shortage of water inside them.

Western North American territories are quite prone to these fires and California is right up there among them. It has a long history of wildfires but the ones this year are breaking all records. The fire at the Mendocino Complex has surpassed the Thomas fire, in terms of the area burned, which burned 283,800 acres of land in December 2017. The areas affected by that fire were in Santa Barbara and Ventura. In addition to the fire in Mendocino Complex, four other massive fires are also burning the state of California including the Donnell fire, the Carr fire, and the Ferguson fire.

The fire at the Mendocino Complex is certainly the largest wildfire in the history of California with 290,692 acres to its credit. What makes it even more interesting is the estimate that only 34% of the fire has burned till now. This fire is actually a complex of two fires namely the Ranch fire and the River fire. The cause of this complex which was initiated on the 27th of July is still unknown and investigations are being done to find the reasons behind these fires.

 4,000 fire personnel are trying to minimize the losses of this inferno which has destroyed more than 140 structures. Low levels of humidity, high temperatures, afternoon winds, and low fuel moistures have resulted in a rapid growth in both of these fires. Things are expected to worsen in the coming days as the weather forecast suggests continued spells of dry, hot, and windy weather.

The Donnell fire started blazing on 1st August 2018 and has spread over a region of 13,200 acres (2% contained) in the first week. The cause of this fire is still under investigation as 410 firefighters are trying to tackle it. It has already burned down 235 structures and poses threat to another 1,120 structures. The fact that it is burning mostly along the inaccessible north bank of the Stanislaus River is making the job of the firefighters even tougher.

The Carr fire is burning the counties of Trinity and Shasta since 23rd July 2018. It has burned more than 167,000 acres of land while 47% of it is contained. A mechanical failure of a vehicle initiated this massive blaze which has destroyed more than 1500 structures including residencies, outbuilding, and commercial structures (1806 structures are still in danger). Two firefighters lost their lives due to this wildfire while 4,738 are performing their duties at this site.

According to experts, 43% of the Ferguson fire, which began on 13th July 2018, is contained while it spreads to an area of 94,331 acres. It has not demolished any structures till now but has killed two firefighters. Additionally, 11 fire personnel got injured during their work. Nearly 2,360 firefighters are busy in dealing with this enormous blaze which has become the largest fire in the history of Sierra National Forest.

All these fires have engulfed the entire state of California and the quality of air is moderate to hazardous depending upon the distance from these sites. Having said that, only a few regions are not being affected by the smoke of these wildfires. This hazardous smoke contains many harmful chemicals including Carbon Monoxide which can have a long-lasting impact on our respiratory systems.

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