This year’s California wildfire season has spawned another grim milestone- the first ‘gigafire’- a fire spanning 1 million acres- in modern history. Have we reached a tipping point?
The complex fire in northern California that started in August spread beyond 1 million acres this week, moving it from a ‘megafire’- which describes a fire that is more than 100 000 acres in size- to a new classification, ‘gigafire’, which has never been used to describe fires before. It is now the biggest fire in the state’s history.
At the time of publication, the fire is currently at 1.03 million acres, caused by an amalgamation of several fires caused when lightning struck dry forests.
The fire has been burning for at least 50 days and has been a little more than half-contained.
Overall, the fires have burned through 4 million acres of California this year, double the previous annual record.
Unfortunately, this dry landscape caused by the fires make larger fires more likely. Big wildfires are now three times more common across to the west of the US than in the 1970s, while the wildfire season is now three months longer, according to Climate Central.
While parts of the state are expected to see temperatures fall with some light to moderate showers, climate scientists warn that it likely won’t be a season-ending storm.
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Where Have We Seen The Gigafire Before?
The most recent gigafire in the US was the Taylor Complex in Alaska, which burned about 1.3 million acres in 2004. Another gigafire was seen in Australia, when two fires on the border between Victoria and New South Wales combined to burn about 1.5 million acres.
Anthropogenic climate change is creating conditions conducive to deadlier and more destructive wildfires through higher temperatures and drier vegetation.
Featured image by: Wikimedia Commons