Wildfires Are the 'New Normal' for California

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
Firefighters attempt to control a back burn of the Carr fire on July 31. This wildfire has burned some 170,000 acres since it stated on July 23. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Gov. Jerry Brown of California has declared wildfires "the new normal" for the state.

"Over a decade or so, we're going to have more fire, more destructive fire, more billions that will have to be spent on this," he said during an Aug. 1 news conference regarding the many fires burning in the state. "All that is the new normal that we have to face."

As of Aug. 5, California has had 3,981 fires in 2018, up a bit from this time last year, which saw 3,662 fires. The fires have also been more destructive, burning almost 630,000 acres. Over 20 of this year's fires have been responsible for at least 1,000 acres of damage. The fires during the same period last year burned 223,238 acres. Not all of these fires were huge fires, and some were easily contained within a few days.

The Cranston fire, pictured here on July 26, was started by an act of arson. (Photo: Pedro Marron/U.S. Forest Service/Wikimedia Commons)

The damage and frequency of the fires speak to a conditions that are ripe for this becoming a "new normal" for the state. Increased fuel, including 129 million dead trees in the state, and drought conditions are setting the stage — and neither are expected to improve any time soon due to climate change.

But the term might not go far enough, some scientists say, since the situation can certainly get worse.

"A new normal makes it sound like we've arrived in a new position and that's where we're going to be," Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science and the director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, told CBS News. "But if we continue to burn fossil fuels and put carbon pollution into the atmosphere, we are going to continue to warm the surface of the Earth. We're going to get worse and worse droughts and heat waves and superstorms and floods and wildfires."

Below, you'll find images and information about some of the more recent 2018 wildfires in California, presenting an ominous and fiery look into the future unless we act to protect the planet.

Mendocino Complex fire

A firefighter monitors a back fire while battling the Medocino Complex fire on Aug. 7. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Actually two fires currently raging in Mendocino, Lake and Colusa counties, the Mendocino Complex fire is the largest wildfire in California history, surpassing last year's record-setting Thomas fire.

The Medocino Complex fire started on July 27, first as the Ranch fire. An hour later, the River fire started as well. (Wildfires get their names from a street or landmark near where they start.) The River fire burned 4,000 acres within a day. Combined, the fire has grown to be roughly the size of Los Angeles in less than two weeks, scorching more than 300,000 acres as of Aug. 8.

Mendocino Complex fire 2

These burned properties are the result of the Mendocino Complex fire. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite its size, the Medocino Complex fire hasn't resulted in any reported fatalities. However, more than 200 buildings and homes have been destroyed. Communities in the line of the wildfire have been evacuated.

The number of homes destroyed by wildfires is increasing as more and more homes are built in forests and wilderness. A property doesn't even have to be in the line of a wildfire to be at risk. Embers from wildfires can ignite structures miles away from the main fire.

Ferguson fire

Flames from the Ferguson fire crest a hill in Stanislaus National Forest, near Yosemite National Park on July 21. (Photo: Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images)

Raging since July 13 and destroying more than 90,000 acres, the Ferguson fire began in an inaccessible part of the Sierra National Forest due to a currently unknown cause. Fighting this wildfire has been difficult. Low-level smoke has hampered efforts to contain it from the air, and fire crews have worked to establish fire breaks, or creating gaps in the vegetation that would otherwise fuel the fire.

Ferguson fire 2

Heavy smoke shrouds Yosemite National Park's Tunnel View Aug. 5. (Photo: U.S. Forest Service/Wikimedia Commons)

The Ferguson fire's largest impact has been on the surrounding national park land, including Yosemite. The park itself was closed on July 25 due to smoke and firefighting efforts. The park has since reopened but in a limited capacity. Yosemite Valley, Wawona, Glacier Point, Mariposa Grove and Hetch Hetchy are closed due to the wildfire.

The surrounding towns and communities, which rely on the tourism dollars generated by park visitors, have struggled since the Ferguson fire began. Hotel reservations have been cancelled into September and restaurants are seeing few customers.

Carr fire

The Carr fire has burned up 172,000 acres. (Photo: Cal Fire/Wikimedia Commons)

Sparked by a vehicle's mechanical failure on July 23, the Carr fire is the sixth most destructive fire in California history. More than 170,000 acres have burned, more than 1,500 buildings have been destroyed and seven people have been killed as of Aug. 8 across Shasta and Trinity counties. Hot conditions and steep, inaccessible terrain have made it difficult for firefighters to create containment lines and stop the fire's rapid spread. Communities in the area have een evacuated, resulting in some 38,000 people seeking shelter.

Carr fire 2

A large pyrocumulus cloud from the Carr fire explodes outward, over trees. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

The Carr fire has also been incredibly hot. In fact, the fire is hot and large enough to create its own weather systems. The cloud in the picture above, a pyrocumulus or fire cloud, is one such result. According to CNN, these clouds look and behave like thunderstorms, capable of producing rain but also lightning and thunder. These clouds are found in conjunction with wildfires and volcanoes.

Cranston fire

The moon rises over Apple Canyon as the Cranston fire burns. (Photo: Cal Fire/Wikimedia Commons)

Not all wildfires are the result of weather conditions or accidents. The Cranston fire, which started on July 25, was allegedly the result of arson in Riverside County. Burning 12 buildings and more than 13,000 acres, the Cranston fire spurred the evacuations of residential areas Idyllwild, Pine Cove and Cedar Glen. The fire's growth has slowed, and authorities expect the fire to be fully contained by the end of this week.

Valley fire

Firefighters extinguish flames along Highway 38 on the Valley Fire. (Photo: Steve Whitby/U.S. Forest Service/Wikimedia Commons)

The Valley fire started on July 6 under unknown circumstances, near Forest Falls in the San Bernardino National Forest. The fire has burned 1,350 acres since it began. In addition to the fire, rocks and burning material have rolled down hillsides, which have made ground containment efforts difficult. Still, firefighters have contained 56 percent of the fire.