Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

California Suffers Its First 'Gigafire'

Climate
California Suffers Its First 'Gigafire'
The August Complex Fire in California has now burned more than 1 million acres. Pacific Southwest Forest Service, USDA / CC BY 2.0

The August Complex Fire in California has now burned more than 1 million acres, making the fire the state's first gigafire. For context, that means the Northern California inferno has now burned an area larger than the entire state of Rhode Island, as Vox reported.


An update on the fire posted Tuesday night by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) said the August Complex Fire has burned for 51 days, touched seven counties, and is 60 percent contained. It has consumed 1,008,590 acres.

The announcement that California now has the first gigafire on record came on the heels of the state announcing that this year's fires have set new records by burning more than 4 million acres so far, more than double the previous record, as EcoWatch reported on Monday.

So far, five of the six largest fires in the state have occurred this year, according to The Guardian. The August Complex Fire has burned through more than double the amount of land as the state's previous record holder, the Mendocino Complex Fire, which ravaged Northern California in 2018, as Gizmodo reported.

The August Complex Fire started when a series of dramatic lightning strikes caused several small fires that were increased by strong winds. The small fires joined together to form the gigafire that is still burning today, as CNN reported.

It was one of several fires that intensified from a series of bad luck as lightning strikes were followed by intense heat waves and high winds that ushered in dry winds. That combination allowed some fires to double overnight, as The Washington Post reported.

"We predicted last year that we were living with the chance of such an extreme event under our current climate," said Jennifer Balch, a fire ecologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, on Twitter, as The Guardian reported. "Don't need a crystal ball."

California's first gigafire is actually not the first one the world has seen this year. In January, Australia's saw a gigafire when lightning strikes caused a series of fires that, like the August Complex Fire, morphed into one in on the border of Victoria and New South Wales, as The Washington Post reported. That fire covered nearly 1.5 million acres.

Historically, the U.S. has seen several gigafires, too. The most recent was the Taylor Complex Fire in Alaska in 2004, which covered roughly 1.3 million acres. In 1988, the Yellowstone Fire in Montana and Idaho burned over 1.5 million acres, as CNN reported.

Experts say the increased frequency and intensity of the fires will be the new normal in the West as the climate crisis intensifies. According to an analysis by Climate Central, the increased heat coupled with prolonged drought have made today's wildfire seasons three months longer than it was in the 70s and wildfires are three times more common, as The Guardian reported.

A CNN meteorologist said that California's wildfires are eight times larger than they were in the 70s and the amount of land burned every year has increased by 500 percent.

The good news for Northern California in the immediate future is that temperatures are supposed to drop 15 degrees Fahrenheit at the end of the week and rain will move in to help the firefighting efforts, as The Guardian reported. However, it will not be enough rain to put an end to the 2020 fire season.

A new study has revealed that Earth's biggest mass extinction was triggered by volcanic activity that led to ocean acidification. Illustration by Dawid Adam Iurino (PaleoFactory, Sapienza University of Rome) for Jurikova et al (2020)

The excess carbon dioxide emitted by human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already raised the Earth's temperature by more than one degree Celsius, increased the risk of extreme hurricanes and wildfires and killed off more than half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. But geologic history shows that the impacts of greenhouse gases could be much worse.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Coronavirus-sniffing dogs Miina and Kössi (R) are seen in Vantaa, Finland on September 2, 2020. Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva / AFP/ Getty Images

By Teri Schultz

Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing.

Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Rashtrapati Bhavan engulfed in smog, at Rajpath, on Oct. 12, 2020 in New Delhi, India. Biplov Bhuyan / Hindustan Times via Getty Images

An annual comprehensive report on air pollution showed that it was responsible for 6.67 million deaths worldwide, including the premature death of 500,000 babies, with the worst health outcomes occurring in the developing world, according to the State of Global Air, which was released Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
New research finds that dust in buildings with older furniture is more likely to contain a suite of compounds that impact our health. Aleksandr Zubkov / Getty Images

By Hannah Seo

If you've been considering throwing out that old couch, now might be a good time. Dust in buildings with older furniture is more likely to contain a suite of compounds that impact our health, according to new research.

Read More Show Less

Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch