Wildfires in California have continued to ravage large portions of the state, with the Thomas fire in southern California now entering its 13th day and claiming over 267,500 acres of land, CNN reported. The wildfire is now the third-largest in California history and is just 40 percent contained, with over 8,400 firefighters and $110 million in resources deployed to fight it.
Now-familiar scenes posted by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and others this weekend showed Ventura and Santa Barbara counties descending into a nightmarish state, just as with a prior spate of wildfires elsewhere in California earlier this year. Ventura resident Patricia Rye told KEYT she had woken up in the middle of the night after her son-in-law arrived and did not have time to grab anything before the fire approached her building.
“I didn’t have time to take anything,” Rye said. “My wallet, or any of my personal things. I literally left with the clothes on my back. If I had been thinking I would have got into my car, but I wasn’t thinking so my car was there.”
Elsewhere, CNN reported, thousands of people were evacuated and animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo were loaded into cages in anticipation of a possible emergency.
The Thomas fire could be on track to become the largest fire in recorded California history, the L.A. Times reported, potentially surpassing both the 2003 Cedar fire (273,000 acres) and the 1889 Santiago Canyon fire (300,000 acres). UCLA and U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist Jon Keeley told the paper that half of the largest wildfires in the state since 1861 have occurred in the last 15 years, with humans primarily to blame—both as a result of arson or accidental fires being started by them or due to persistent regional drought, which is linked to climate change.
“We think that this fire, the Thomas fire, is likely very large in part not just because the Santa Ana wind event is long, but there was this very extreme drought between 2012 and 2014,” Keeley said.
“... What extreme droughts do is they cause dieback of the vegetation,” he added. “Basically a canopy of the vegetation dies and oftentimes the entire plant dies. So you have lots of dead vegetation out on the landscape from the drought. And when the Santa Ana winds blow embers ahead of the fire front, they’ll ignite spot fires, but only if they land on dead vegetation.”
Associate director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder Michael Kodas wrote in the L.A. Times that prior to 1995, the U.S. averaged one “mega-fire” of more than 100,000 acres a year. California now experiences one such fire a year on its own, while the U.S. averages nearly 10. Elsewhere in the paper, concerned readers urged fellow residents to stop building homes or developments in the wildland-urban border zones where the fires spread.