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River Fire

A home burns as the River Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex, moves through the area on July 31, 2018 in Lakeport, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

With Climate Crisis Key Driver, Mendocino Complex Fire Now Largest Recorded in California's History

"We're looking at long-term trends that are alarming for us, especially how quickly they are burning and how much damage they are causing and how deadly they are."

Jessica Corbett

While President Donald Trump rolls back environmental regulations aimed at curbing the climate crisis and doubles down on ignorant right-wing talking points about the wildfires ravaging California, climate scientists continue to raise alarm as the Mendocino Complex blaze has become the largest recorded in state history.

"You warm the planet, you're going to get more frequent and intense heat waves. You warm the soils, you dry them out, you get worse drought. You bring all that together, and those are all the ingredients for unprecedented wildfires."
—Michael E. Mann, Penn State climate scientist

"We broke the record," said Scott McLean, a deputy chief with Cal Fire, according to the Los Angeles Times. "That's one of those records you don't want to see." As of late Monday, the fire was only 30 percent contained.

"The twin wildfires, collectively known as the Mendocino Complex Fire, have together more than doubled in size in the past four days and burned through 283,800 acres of parched land—an area almost the size of Los Angeles," reports the Washington Post.

Climate scientist Michael E. Mann, a professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, appeared on PBS NewsHour to outline how the climate crisis is exacerbating extreme weather and fueling concerns that this fire season represents the nightmare scenario which experts have warned for decades:

"You warm the planet, you're going to get more frequent and intense heat waves. You warm the soils, you dry them out, you get worse drought. You bring all that together, and those are all the ingredients for unprecedented wildfires," Mann explained. He also broke down how a slow jet stream is causing weather systems to remain stationery, meaning certain regions experience an onslaught of extreme weather.

And the current fires are, by all accounts, extreme. As McLean of Cal Fire concluded: "It is extremely fast, extremely aggressive, extremely dangerous. ...Look how big it got, just in a matter of days. ...Look how fast this Mendocino Complex went up in ranking. That doesn't happen. That just doesn't happen."

"Over half of the most deadly and destructive and large fires in California have occurred over the past 10 years. We're looking at long-term trends that are alarming for us, especially how quickly they are burning and how much damage they are causing and how deadly they are."
—Jonathan Cox, Cal Fire

Although the Mendocino Complex Fire is record-setting for California, it does seem to be following a trend of increasingly massive and dangerous fires.

"Over half of the most deadly and destructive and large fires in California have occurred over the past 10 years," Jonathan Cox, the Northern California battalion chief for Cal Fire, told SFGate.

"We're looking at long-term trends that are alarming for us, especially how quickly they are burning and how much damage they are causing and how deadly they are," Cox added. "It would not be an overstatement to say this is unprecedented."

As Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org, and many others pointed out, the last record was set mere months ago by the Thomas Fire—which, as NBC News notes, "scorched more than 1,000 buildings and killed two people across 440 square miles in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties."

Additionally, the wildfires currently destroying large swaths of the West Coast—the Times reports that "there are 18 large wildfires burning across California, scarring a combined 559,000 acres"—come as a global heat wave has created dangerous conditions and fueled fires in other regions.

As Peter Stott, a professor of detection and attribution of climate change at the United Kingdom's University of Exeter, summarized Monday: "This year we are seeing heatwaves in Japan, in Northern Scandinavia, and in parts of the USA, right now the temperatures are building in southern Europe too. It is a big hemispheric pattern of elevated temperatures in the northern hemisphere and that is something that we wouldn't see without climate change."


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