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'The First Time... But it Won't Be the Last': Climate Activists Warn California's First Gigafire Is the Shape of Things to Come

The August Complex Fire, which has now burned more than one million acres, is the largest in Golden State history. 

A firefighter battles a blaze near homes in Madera County, California on September 7, 2020. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

A firefighter douses flames as they burn through forest near homes in the Cascadel Woods area of Madera County, California on September 7, 2020. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images) 

California on Tuesday reached a frightful new milestone, with the state recording the first gigafire in its history as the raging August Complex blaze spread to over one million acres. 

At 1.006 million acres, the northern California wildfire is now burning an area larger than the state of Rhode Island, according to The Guardian. CalFire reports the blaze is the largest in state history, at more than double the size of the July 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire that burned nearly 460,000 acres.

The August Complex Fire—which according to CalFire has killed one person and devoured 199 structures—is burning across several counties and was around 58% contained as of Tuesday morning.

CNN reports that overall, California wildfires have scorched four million acres this year, more than double the previous record set in 2018 when nearly 8,000 fires killed 100 people and destroyed more than 24,000 structures.


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This isn't the first gigafire in U.S. history. But it is the first in modern Californian history, and the first in the country since the 2004 Taylor Complex Fire in Alaska, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. 

Most climate scientists blame global heating caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activity for the surge in wildfires in recent years.

"Research suggests that continued global warming could increase the average area of California that burns by more than 75%," climate scientist Kristy Dahl wrote Tuesday for Common Dreams.

Environmental groups, climate activists, and scientists sounded the alarm over California's fiery milestone, with some warning that this is the shape of things to come.

Meteorologists are warning that the impending arrival of the powerful seasonal gusts known as the Diablo wind could make the northern California wildfires exponentially worse. Diablo winds were the main drivers of the deadly 2019 Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, the Wine Country fires of 2017 and 2018, and the 1991 Tunnel Fire in the Oakland hills.

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