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Southern California Fires Expand to Over 255,000 Acres as Conditions Worsen

On Sunday, driven by above normal temperatures and fanned by warm winds, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, California rapidly expanded. This resulted in a loss of containment as the blaze jumped fire breaks — placing parts of Santa Barbara under seige.

(Smoke plumes from the Thomas fire as seen by a webcam located atop Santa Ynez Peak, a 4300′ mountain 17 miles northwest of downtown Santa Barbara.)

This single fire, as of Monday morning, covered 230,000 acres. At that time, it was the fifth largest fire in California history. It was burning in December. And, at the time, the fire was continuing to swiftly grow.

Five other fires burning in Southern California together cover an additional 25,000+ acres. As a result, approximately 255,000 acres are now burning in this region of the state.

The 6,000 firefighters now engaged in battling these blazes had hoped that predicted milder Santa Ana winds would afford them a chance to gain an advantage over these fires this weekend. But this didn’t happen. The western high pressure ridge strengthened. Local temperatures increased to well above the seasonal average. And though winds subsided somewhat, very dry conditions dominated.

Due to the worsening situation, 25,000 structures are now threatened by the fires — up from 20,000 earlier this week. More than 790 structures have been burned or destroyed. More than 95,000 people remain under evacuation orders. And more than 85,000 people are without power. Tragically, the fires have now claimed their first human life as well.

Unfortunately, warmer than normal, dry and windy conditions are expected to continue through at least Friday, December 15th. Resulting in a long running period of heightened fire danger. These climate change related features are driven by a very persistent high pressure ridge over the North American west. A feature that has been linked to loss of sea ice and a warming Arctic in some climate studies.

Overall, climate change is worsening fire danger out west. During summer, hotter and drier conditions are intensifying the California fire season. And during fall through winter, the climate change associated warming, drying and strengthening of the Santa Ana winds is enabling the eruption of very large city-threatening fires during the winter months.

(UPDATED)

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Eric Holthaus

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Titania Baildon

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As Climate Emergencies Rise — A Call For Action

With climate change enhanced wildfires raging across California during December, now is exactly the time to redouble our resolve to fight against the causes of such widespread destruction. To enact policies aimed at reducing the force of a rising crisis that continues to impact so many of our people with increasing intensity.

In California today, there is a move afoot to set a deadline for banning the very fossil fuel based vehicles that have fanned the fires of climate change across the state. To resolve, by 2040, to take gas powered cars off the road.

Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat and sponsor of this legislative drive, notes that for the State to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets, it’s going to have to transition away from fossil fuel based vehicles. Such vehicles represent more than 1/3 of all state carbon emissions. And the state can’t effectively address the carbon dioxide emissions that drive climate change disasters without also directly targeting the number of fossil fuel based vehicles in operation.

(According to California’s Air Resources Board, nearly 38 percent of the state’s carbon emissions are due to transportation.)

New electrical vehicle (EV) technology is enabling just such a move. According to Ting:

“The market is moving this way. The entire world is moving this way. At some point you need to set a goal and put a line in the sand.”

If California sets a policy to ban fossil fuel based vehicles by 2040, it will join a growing number of cities and states that have already set similar goals. These include France, the United Kingdom, India, Germany, and Norway. Meanwhile, China is pursuing very aggressive incentives to increase the number of EVs as a means of combating terrible local air pollution and climate change.

Movement by cities and states to ban fossil fuel vehicles and incentivize EVs has an out-sized impact. It signals automakers that EV preference by government is becoming widespread. And because manufacturers have limited capital to spend on new vehicles, this drives a manufacturing preference as well.

(In this National Renewable Energy Laboratory study, the most rapid carbon emissions reductions were achieved in scenarios where large-scale EV deployment was combined with wholesale replacement of coal, oil, and gas fired electricity generation with renewable sources like wind and solar.)

Since EVs are more efficient that internal combustion engine based vehicles, they greatly reduce carbon emissions when tied to even traditional grids. But when linked to renewable power sources like wind and solar, EVs produce zero emissions in operation. This combination enables a far more rapid rate of carbon emission reduction.

In addition, the manufacturing base for EV batteries can also be used to build storage systems for intermittent wind and solar energy. This enables the removal of fossil fuel emitting coal and gas fired generators held in reserve for times when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine even as the EVs themselves remove the need for oil based transporation. Such a manufacturing chain also opens up a new market for auto manufacturers — a fact that both Tesla and Hyundai have learned to their benefit.

Because EVs are based on electronic technology that is closely tied to the information age, they can benefit both from synergistic related economies of scale and from various innovations and breakthroughs. This means that EVs already outperform fossil fuel based vehicles in a number of areas. A performance advantage that is increasing and will likely overcome most traditional vehicles by the early 2020s. Because of this advantage, EVs would probably ultimately win out over time. However, the present climate crisis lends urgency to speeding their rate of adoption and in accelerating the rate of harmful fossil fuel based vehicle replacement.

Rise of the Fimbul Fires: Climate Change Enhanced Jets of Flame Rage Across Southern California

Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire. I hold with those who favor fire… — Robert Frost

I am Lorn Sparkfell, guardian of First Frost, without which the world will burn. — Luthiel’s Song, The Death of Winter

*****

Fimbul is an old icelandic word for mighty, giant, great. It is an archaic word that has fallen out of modern use. But considering the fact that the fires now ripping through Southern California are both out of the context of recent milder climates and have explosively expanded to gigantic proportion, it is perhaps time that we should re-introduce the term.

(Photograph of Southern California Fires taken from the International Space Station on December 7 of 2017.)

Sections of Southern California are now experiencing never-before-seen levels of fire hazard as winds gusting to near 80 mph across the region are fanning five out of control blazes. The fires are burning during what should be the cooler month of December. But cool conditions have eluded that part of the state. And the blow-torch like Santa Ana winds that are fanning the flames are being enhanced by conditions consistent with human-caused climate change.

Today, the fire index for Southern California is 296. The threshold for an extreme fire index is 165. And 296 is the highest fire index So Cal has ever experienced according to local firefighters. Fire index is a measure of fire risk. So, if these reports are correct, this region has never seen fire danger hit such an extreme intensity.

(Hurricane Force Winds Fuel Massive Wildfires in Southern California from ClimateState.)

Five fires now burning across Southern California have consumed upwards of 120,000 acres — or a region larger than Atlanta. The Thomas Fire in Ventura County is the largest at approximately 96,000 acres. The Rye Fire, Creek Fire, and Skirball fire all continue to burn. And a new fire — the Horizon Fire in Malibu — has recently ignited. None of these fires are more than 15 percent contained. So all are effectively still out of control.

In total, approximately 20,000 buildings are threatened by fire with more than 300 homes and businesses burned already. 200,000 people are under evacuation orders — enough to fill a relatively large city. Thankfully, there have been no reports of loss of human life so far. But animals, including these horses, haven’t been so lucky.

(Average temperatures across the U.S. West were around 4 C above normal for the entire past 30 day period. This is not at all typical. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

Climate change skeptics and deniers will try to say that such events are normal for California. That fires always happen. That weather is variable. And tell you five or six or seven other kinds of hogwash.

But the fact is that these conditions are not normal. That California has just experienced its worst fire year on record. That the incidence of large fires in the West has risen fourfold since the mid 1980s. And that report after report after report are linking presently worsening fire conditions in the region to climate change.

Other politically motivated individuals will tell you that now is not the time to discuss climate change — by stating that responding to the disaster itself is more important that examining causes. This is also a red herring — as any effective disaster response will include a responsible review of causes.

To this point, if we are to be effective in both responding to this disaster and in reducing future harm, we should look seriously at the underlying causes that are making fires in places like California worse. And if we are exploring why these Fimbul Fires are happening now, then the big issue is climate change — writ large.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to ClimateState

Fire Danger Again Rises Across California; Number of Structures Lost in Northern Blazes Increases to 8,400

A California still reeling from the devastating impact of wildfires worsened by human-caused climate change just can’t get a break.

An army of 5,000 firefighters presently remain engaged in attempting to contain the large wildfires that are now unarguably the most destructive in California history. As with the recently very extreme hurricanes, we are still tallying the damage estimates.  And the results are pretty stark. 100,000 of our fellow Americans have been displaced. The loss of souls has risen to 42. In total, 8,400 structures including thousands of homes, have been burned to the ground.

Already, this disaster is yet another in the billion-dollar-class of climate incidents. Now numbering 4 in just the past three months with total estimated losses from the fires ranging from 1 to 3 billion dollars. Unfortunately, this devastating toll is likely to climb as further tallies come in.

(Hottest World Series on record amid severe fire risk.)

Presently, the remaining fires still burning are between 79 and 97 percent contained — according to the most recent report from the National Interagency Fire Center. However, temperatures rising into the upper 90s and lower to middle 100s across the state coupled with strong Santa Ana winds are again increasing fire risk. An elevated fire hazard that expected to persist through Wednesday.

In Los Angeles, red flag parking restrictions have been put in place to enable emergency vehicles to rapidly navigate narrow streets in the event of a new fire start requiring rapid attention. And in the south, numerous small brush fires have already been reported. Thankfully, these have not risen to the rapidly expanding extent or intensity of the northern fires over the past couple of weeks. But concerns, given recent events, remain very high.

(Very hot fall temperatures, Santa Ana winds are again predicted across southern and western sections of California today. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Warming global temperatures in the range of 1 to 1.2 C above 1880s averages are now starting to have a profound impact on the hydrological cycle, storms, and related rates of precipitation and evaporation. In California, increasingly extreme weather in the form of more intense and rapidly forming heatwaves and droughts, and precipitation coming more as heavy rainfall events increases fire risk. This, together with the general impact of warming which moves climate zones faster than trees can follow or adapt and that increases the prevalence of invasive species harmful to trees, has increased the incidence of large fires throughout the U.S. West.

We are now in a situation where fires can threaten entire cities (the devastating fire that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray in Canada was finally declared extinguished during September of 2017 after burning for a year and three months) and where the total number of structures lost can rival the size of a town. This is a terrible impact and hazard for those living in the western and northwestern region. One that did not exist at the level or frequency we see today. And though other factors also contribute — such as increasing encroachment of settlements on wooded areas — the primary factor increasing fire intensity, size, and expanding the length of fire season is human-caused climate change.

The only way we can get a handle on this rising risk is to mitigate and remove the causes of climate change. And that involves working together as a nation to switch the kinds of energy we use to non carbon emitting sources like solar and wind and reducing other harmful practices that emit carbon into our atmosphere.

Links:

Red Flag Parking Restrictions in Effect in LA

Fire Loss Surges to 8,400 Structures in Northern California

California Wildfire Damage Estimates Top $3 Billion

National Interagency Fire Center

Red Flag Warning: Southland Brush Fires

GISS Temperature Data

Devastating Fort McMurray Wildfire Declared out 15 Months Later

Earth Nullschool

Significant Monsters: Climate Change Enhanced Wildfires Tear Widening Swath Through California

“We are facing some pretty significant monsters,” — Cal Fire incident commander Bret Couvea to a room of about 200 firefighters and law enforcement officials at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Wednesday morning.

“Think of the climate change issue as a closet, and behind the door are lurking all kinds of monsters — and there’s a long list of them,” — Steve Pacala.

*****

As of Wednesday, the massive fires blazing across California and concentrated in the north had consumed over 141,000 acres, resulted in the loss of 17 lives, and destroyed more than 2,000 structures. Approximately 50,000 people are now evacuated from the fire zones. And about 500 individuals are reported missing. A grim tally that is unfortunately likely to worsen as the hours and days progress.

This outbreak is now one of the worst fire disasters ever to strike California. One which may break all previous records for tragic loss of life and property when this terrible event finally winds down many days from now and all losses are counted.

Significant Monsters…

In total, eight major fires are still burning across the state. As all but one fire remains uncontained, the area consumed continues to expand. The seven large out of control fires presently range in size from 7,500 to 37,000 acres each and have burned approximately 40,000 additional acres in just the past 24 hours alone. Lighter winds and cooler weather have aided firefighting efforts. But the sudden large scale of the fires erupting Sunday through Tuesday and very dry and occasionally gusty conditions with no rain in sight have produced serious challenges for firefighters.

(The skies of northern California blanketed by smoke from massive blazes streaming like ‘liquid fire’ across Northern California on Tuesday, October 10. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

As of yet, no direct initial cause for the fires has been identified. But the co-location of some fires with downed power lines due to wind gusts up to hurricane force late Sunday night have provided one potential ignition source. Human error or malicious activity have not yet been ruled out.

… Fed by Climate Change …

Regardless of direct cause of ignition, the fires lit in vegetative growth that sprang up after an abnormally wet winter and spring. This growth has flash-dried over summer in a region that received 10-20 percent of its typical moisture allotment over that period. Northern California over recent years has experienced severe drought, extreme rains, and during summer of 2017 flash drying of new vegetative growth. This is a cycle of extremes consistent with human caused climate change. So as with the major hurricanes blowing up over the ocean this year we can definitely say that climate change has played a role in setting conditions that enabled this event to hit a much more fierce than usual intensity.

… Caused by Bad Energy and Environmental Policy Choices

Bad choices — primarily involved with continued policies promoting fossil fuel burning (#1), harmful agricultural practices (#2), and deforestation (#3) have brought us to this pass. Failure to rapidly enable a renewable energy transition and to produce policies that promote less harmful consumption and more sustainable land use will result in an ever-increasing tempo of extreme events.

We see this high tempo now in events that bear the names Harvey, Irma, Maria, California fires and so, so many more over the past few years. Let us hope and pray that it relents enough to give us the space to make the right choices for ourselves, the life supports of our planet, and our children.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

A recent climate study found that warming oceans have weakened the southwestern monsoon generating a prevalence for droughts and wildfires in the region. This is a direct result of human-caused climate change:

Links:

The National Interagency Fire Center

NASA Worldview

Some Pretty Significant Monsters

Pure Devastation

California Fires: Before and After Photos

How Did the California Fires Become so Devastating?

Hat tip to Eleggua

Hat tip to Genomik

 

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