- REUTERS/Gene Blevins
- California’s wildfires are getting worse: 14 of the 20 largest wildfires in the state have happened since the year 2000, according to an analysis.
- The state spent $505 million fighting fires in 2017, and if trends continue, that cost will continue to go up.
A series of wildfires have devastated Southern California over the past week, and they’re showing few signs of slowing down.
The Thomas Fire in Ventura County, which had burned over 230,500 acres as of Monday morning, already ranks as the fifth largest fire in California’s history (since records were kept).
While that’s a far cry from the Rush Fire, the largest fire in California’s history – which burned 271,911 acres in 2012 – the Thomas Fire is still only 15% contained.
According to an analysis from Climate Nexus, these fires, and the fires that devastated Northern California in October, are part of a larger trend of climate change that’s only going to get worse.
Fourteen of the 20 largest fires in California’s history have occurred since the year 2000, according to Climate Nexus. California is coming off of a record heat wave in September that dried out the state, turning Southern California into a tinderbox.
Because of climate change, the average wildfire season lasts at least 2 1/2 months longer than it did in the early 1970s. And the amount of land burned in the US since 1984 is double what would have been expected without the effects of climate change.
- Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Gov. Jerry Brown called the wildfires a “new normal,” for California.
“This could be something that happens every year or every few years,” Brown said over the weekend, per The Los Angeles Times. “We’re about to have a firefighting Christmas.”
Here’s the list of the fourteen largest fires since the year 2000, from Climate Nexus:
- December 2017: Thomas, 230,500 acres
- September 2016: Soberanes, 132,127 acres
- July 2015: Rough, 151,623 acres
- August 2014: Happy Camp Complex, 134,056 acres
- August 2013: Rim, 257,314 acres
- August 2012: Rush, 271,911 acres
- August 2009: Station 160,557 acres
- June 2008: Klamath Theater Complex, 192,038 acres
- June 2008: Basin Complex, 162,818 acres
- October 2007: Witch, 197,990 acres
- July 2007: Zaca, 240,207 acres
- September 2006: Day, 162,702 acres
- October 2003: Cedar, 273,246 acres
- July 2002: McNally, 150,696 acres
Between 1930 and 1999, there were only six fires over 100,000 acres in California, according to Climate Nexus.
As larger fires burn in the state, fire-related expenditures are also increasing. Climate Nexus calculated that in the 2017 fiscal year (which ends in October), California’s Department of Fire and Forestry protection spent $505 million fighting fires across the state. Twenty years ago, in 1997, the state spent only $47 million.
The Soberanes wildfire in 2016 set the record for the costliest firefight in history, with the state spending $260 million to battle the blaze.