California Wildfires Break Records by Burning More Than 4 Million Acres
The California wildfires set a record this year after burning more than 4 million acres in a season that is still going, according to the AP. Fire officials announced the grim new record Sunday, noting that the amount of land the fires have consumed this year is at least double that of any previous fire year.
"Since CAL FIRE officially began recording state responsibility fire figures in 1933, all large fire years have remained well below the 4 million acre mark for acreage burned, until now," said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the state's official fire agency, on Twitter Sunday. "This year is far from over and fire potential remains high. Please be cautious outdoors."
On Sunday, CAL FIRE announced that this year the state has battled more than 8,200 blazes, which have damaged more than 8,000 structures. The fires have also resulted in 31 deaths. That does not include the damage caused by the fires that raged through Oregon and Washington. Currently, roughly 17,000 firefighters are still working to control and extinguish at least 23 major fires in the state, as NPR reported.
"The 4 million mark is unfathomable. It boggles the mind, and it takes your breath away," said Scott McLean, a spokesman for CAL FIRE, as the AP reported. "And that number will grow."
The August Complex Fire is the largest blaze still burning in California. It is burning in Northern California as it has done since it started Aug. 16. It is currently 54 percent contained, according to CAL FIRE updates from Sunday night. On Saturday, wind cleared some smoke. When that happened, high temperatures and low humidity fed oxygen to the fire, giving it new strength, according to the update.
Fortunately, rain is in the forecast for Northern California this week, which will provide some much needed aid in containing the region's ongoing blazes, as CNN reported.
"A front is pushing through the Pacific Northwest today which is bringing cooler, drier air," CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said on Monday. The areas that are fighting the August Complex Fire, the Zogg Fire and the Glass Fire will all see significant rainfall on Friday, which will last through the weekend.
"Rain through this period will impact areas from San Diego to Seattle — however the bulk of the rain will occur from the Mendocino area in Northern California to the Canadian border," Guy said, as CNN reported. "This should be something to help the firefighters contain the blazes."
While there is some optimism about next weekend's weather prediction, the immediate forecast is for continued heat that will force firefighters to keep up their relentless efforts to contain the fire.
"We are seeing some relief in the weather, but it's going to be three of four days before it really makes a difference on the fire," said CAL FIRE meteorologist Tom Bird at a Sunday news briefing about the Glass Fire, as the AP reported. "The one good thing going forward, we're not expecting any wind events to push into the fire."
As of Sunday morning, the Glass Fire, which started in Napa last week, covered 63,885 acres and was 17 percent contained, as NPR reported.
The size of this year's fires is more than double the 2018 record of 1.67 million burned acres, or 2,609 square miles, in California, according to the AP. That meant that they affected people who were not in the path of the fires as air quality around the state plummeted and gave an eerie orange hue to the sky. The phenomenon of bad air that made its way into homes prompted a run on air purifiers across the state.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.