“Never have I felt more of a sense of obligation and a sense of purpose to maintain California’s leadership not only nationally but internationally to face climate change head on,” he said on Tuesday.
The legacy of a more than century-long policy of total fire suppression is also rearing its ugly head, experts have said. That policy of extinguishing every fire has harmed ecosystems that naturally depend on fires to clear space for new growth, as well as Native American communities who have used fire to care for huge swaths of land for millenniums.
Is this year worse than other wildfire seasons? Why?
Yes, it is worse, for many of the reasons above.
Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency, reported on Wednesday that more than 14,000 firefighters were battling 28 major fires across the state, and that more than 2.5 million acres have burned this year, far outstripping any previous record in the state’s history.
Eight people have died, and more than 3,700 structures have been destroyed.
Daniel Swain, a California climate expert, said recently that he was alarmed by the sheer breadth and acreage of the blazes burning at the same time across a variety of ecosystems. On top of that, it’s still early in the wildfire season, which scientists have warned repeatedly is stretching longer and longer.
“I’m running out of superlatives,” Mr. Swain said — and that was late last month.
The fact that the fires this year are layered atop the continuing coronavirus crisis is another reason that it feels so different. For millions of Californians, the outdoors are a respite. But now, smoke has made the air outside toxic across much of the state, national forests are closed, and some of the places most treasured by residents could be damaged.
Where are the wildfires burning? Which ones are the most troubling?
There are currently dozens of fires burning just in California; the biggest is the largely uncontained Creek Fire, which prompted Governor Newsom to declare a state of emergency in Fresno, Mariposa and Madera Counties. The fire grew so quickly over the weekend that members of the California National Guard had to rescue trapped campers by helicopter from the Sierra National Forest.
The governor also declared a state of emergency in San Bernardino County, where the El Dorado Fire has prompted widespread evacuations and road closures, and in San Diego County, where the Valley Fire was burning. The Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest threatened homes in the Los Angeles suburbs.