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See how much of California has burned in the last five years

Popular Science logo Popular Science 8/9/2018 Sara Chodosh

Slideshow by photo services

It's a lot.

California is currently experiencing its largest fire on record, but you're not alone if you feel like you've heard this story before. The state is so parched that massive fires pop up all the time, and climate change isn’t helping. In the last few years huge swaths have dried up, burst into flames, and left blackened land behind.

a sunset in the background: Blazes spread faster in an increasingly hot world. © Pixabay Blazes spread faster in an increasingly hot world.

Right now there are 18 wildfires actively burning, and 14,000 firefighters attempting to control them. Between January and August of 2017, nearly 350 square miles burned. This year, it’s nearly a thousand. It’s the worst fire season since 2008, and we’re barely even at the peak.

Most of California’s hottest fires have burned since 2000—13 out of 20 total—as higher temperatures have made wildfires increasingly likely and destructive. Just in the last five years, this is how much of the state has gone up in flames:

Much of California has been on fire recently. © Infographic by Sara Chodosh Much of California has been on fire recently.

“California is built to burn, and burn explosively,” Stephen Pyne, a fire historian and professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, told Popular Science. The dry heat, the droughts, the expanses of land that actually rely on regular wildfires to regenerate—it’s a deadly recipe.

Of course, it’s not just the west coast. Wildfires burned all over the world last year. South Africa, New Zealand, Russia, Canada, and Brazil were all ablaze at various points.

The current Mendocino Complex fire will hopefully be contained by August 15, at least according to current estimates. But it certainly won’t be the last fire to rage through California. If you’re in the vicinity or in a fire-prone area, you should check out these tips to stay safe. Unfortunately, global warming will make it harder and harder to prevent and contain fires—we’re in for a lot more burning.


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