California’s devastating Carr Fire is now measured to have spread to over 89,000 acres on Sunday, resulting in at least five deaths, hundreds of destroyed structures, and severe damage to western parts of the city of Redding after it ravaged the nearby communities of Shasta and Keswick.
Per SFGate, officials now say that the blaze destroyed 517 structures, damaged 135 others, and some 5,000 others are now at risk of being burned down. The five deaths included Melody Bledsoe and her young great-grandchildren Emily and James Roberts, whose bodies were found in their home in Redding.
Two firefighters, bulldozer operator Don Ray Smith of Pollock Pines and Redding fire inspector Jeremy Stoke, also lost their lives, SFGate wrote:
Steve Crawford from Cal Fire described it as “unprecedented. It’s burning in every direction all at the same time.”
The neighborhood where Bledsoe and her great-grandchildren died experienced what officials described as a “flash fire,” leaving residents little time to escape.
“It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Redding Police Chief Roger Moore, who lost his own home in the River Ridge district while he was patrolling the area Thursday.
Additionally, SFGate wrote Redding officials have received reports of looting.
According to the LA Times, the Carr fire is just five percent contained despite the continual efforts of 3,400 firefighters and is still headed towards “residential areas west and south of downtown Redding.” Some 38,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders, with 260 National Guard personnel deployed to enforce those orders and staff roadblocks.
At least 13 missing persons are reported, Sgt. Todd Cogle told the paper, though early indications are that some of those are safe and may have had to flee their homes without notifying friends or relatives.
A number of other fires are burning across California at the same time, some large enough to result in their own states of emergency. Those include the largely uncontained Cranston Fire some 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles and the Ferguson Fire in Yosemite National Park, the latter of which will take at least two weeks to control.
Though the cause of the Carr Fire has been widely reported to be a vehicle malfunction on Highway 299, UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain told the Times that vegetation across the state is already “explosively dry,” having reached that state months before the worst heat waves typically arrive in September. Research has shown the Western wildfire season is now much longer and resulting in bigger blazes.
“It’s a lot easier to get bad fires under these conditions,” Swain said, “because you don’t need as much of a push from the winds.”
“We now have very strong evidence that global warming has already put a thumb on the scales, upping the odds of extremes like severe heat and heavy rainfall,” Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh told the Associated Press. “We find that global warming has increased the odds of record-setting hot events over more than 80 percent of the planet, and has increased the odds of record-setting wet events at around half of the planet.”
The AP wrote the fire is part of a nationwide trend of larger, more destructive wildfires linked to a changing climate:
In the United States on Friday, there were 89 active large fires, consuming nearly 900,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. So far this year, fires have burned 4.15 million acres, which is nearly 14 percent higher than average over the past 10 years.
Experts have also pointed to explosive urban growth into areas which were formerly wildlands across California, resulting in more human exposure to wildfires. Capital Public Radio writes:
Keith Gilless, a UC Berkeley professor of forest economics, said extreme fires such as these will become more common in California’s populated areas... “I think the trend is really that we moved into the wildlands, more than that the fires from the wildlands moved into our space,” Gilless explained.
[The California state government] can lessen their severity, Gilless said, by thinning forests, strengthening building codes for new and existing homes and making roadways and utility corridors safer.
Climatologist Bill Patzert warned the LA Times that with the highest temperatures not expected to arrive until closer to September, the worst is yet to come.
“The large picture, of course, is that we’re living in a warmer world,” Patzert said. “Temperatures are much higher this summer—next summer—than they were 50 or 100 years ago.”