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  • California's wildfires explained: How did they start – and is this normal?

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California's wildfires explained: How did they start – and is this normal?

Source(s):  Guardian, the (UK)

By Maanvi Singh

Extreme weather set the stage for the blazes tearing through cities and rural areas. They are likely to continue for weeks.

Wildfires have been raging across California, ripping through wildlands as well as cities, towns and rural neighborhoods, forcing thousands of residents to flee amid a heatwave and the coronavirus pandemic. The blazes have blackened skies, spewing smoke across the Bay Area and sprinkling ash across the region this week.

Sparked by a rare lightning storm and stoked by hot, windy weather, the fires have expanded quickly into the Sierra Nevada, southern California, and regions north, east and south of San Francisco. Fire crews have been stretched thin, and Governor Gavin Newsom appealed to the whole country to help send personnel and equipment: “We are challenged right now.”


The fires are likely to continue for the coming two or three weeks, experts said. The best-case scenario is that some of the larger groupings of fires run out of fuel, hitting bodies of water or patches of land that have already burned in recent fires – and stay away from neighborhoods.


Wildfires are natural and necessary in California, where the landscape has adapted to and evolved with fires. But in recent years, wildfires have been burning through more acreage, for longer stretches of time, devastating homes and neighborhoods — a sign that climate change has thrown off a natural balance of destruction and regrowth..


Still, there’s little doubt that a century of landscape mismanagement in California has helped fires become larger and more destructive.

Disregarding thousands of years of Indigenous ecological knowledge and land stewardship, the US government for years suppressed wildfires that were necessary to clear out overgrown vegetation and keep forests healthy. They shunned a practice, observed by hundreds of tribes in the region, of setting small, intentional fires to renew the landscape and prevent larger, more destructive wildfires – called “prescribed burns” – until very recently. Over decades, Californians also built their homes into wild landscapes particularly prone to fires, and continue to do so.


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  • Publication date 22 Aug 2020

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