USA – The wildfires that raced across California in 2017 caused historic levels of death and destruction.
Nearly 9,000 wildfires tore through the state, burning 1.2 million acres of land (an area the size of Delaware or the Larsen C iceberg), destroying more than 10,800 structures and killing at least 46 people.
Fires have erupted as far as the Klamath National Forest, on the Oregon border, and as far south as San Diego. They also have ravaged forest along the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Some blazes engulfed areas surrounding major cities, including Los Angeles and Santa Rosa, burning through mountainsides in fiery spectacles some witnesses described as a “real life apocalypse.”
A nearly unstoppable inferno
The Thomas Fire was first reported on Dec. 4 and became a blazing behemoth that has scorched more than 280,000 acres across Southern California.
It’s the largest fire ever to be recorded in California — so large it would engulf much of the Washington metropolitan area.
he California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection received its first reports near the city of Santa Paula in Ventura County, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
In the ensuing weeks, the Thomas Fire raced west, prompting mandatory evacuations in cities and towns across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and burning hundreds of thousands of acres of land.
It destroyed 1,063 structures and killed one person, a 32-year-old firefighter from Escondido, Calif.
And it’s still burning. As of Wednesday, state fire officials said the blaze is about 92 percent contained. A full containment, they estimated, won’t happen until late January.
A destructive year
Weather contributed significantly to this year’s outbreak of wildfires.
A wet winter and spring allowed undergrowth to flourish. Then, a hot dry summer turned the new growth to tinder.
As fires ignited – from human sources in most cases – high winds carried the embers and spread them.
Most of California’s largest wildfires have occured within the past 30 years.
The Thomas Fire’s reach across Southern California surpasses the Cedar Fire, which destroyed more than 273,000 acres near San Diego in 2003.
Five of California’s most destructive wildfires – those that caused significant damage to buildings and infrastructure – on record occurred in 2017, including the Thomas Fire.
In October, more than a dozen wildfires ripped across Northern California. The Nuns, Tubbs, Atlas and Redwood Valley fires stand out as among the most damaging to ever hit the state.
They started within a day of each other in early October and continued burning for nearly three weeks.
Collectively, the four fires turned more than 181,000 acres of forests, vineyards and farmland into barren lands. Despite burning half the land the Thomas Fire consumed, the blazes destroyed nearly eight times as many structures.
The wildfires also killed about 40 people and injured 44.
California may not see a reprieve this winter. The National Interagency Fire Center’s Predictive Outlook for 2018 for the first time is forecasting above normal large fire potential due to the persistence of dry fuels, frequent offshore winds and generally unfavorable weather.