The Northern California Dixie Fire that erupted last month continues to make history. The elusive fire officially became the largest active wildfire in the U.S. last weekend. On Monday, it was recognized as California’s second-largest fire in history. Although the blaze started small, various factors have made it difficult to contain. So far, it has claimed roughly half a million acres and lasted for almost a month.
Of more concern to firefighters is the rate at which the fire is spreading and how it spreads. It ravaged California’s parched forest at an alarming rate, at some point claiming an acre of land every second. Firefighters say that the rate of spread and the elusive nature in which random fires are started have made it difficult to contain the flames.
“We’re seeing truly frightening fire behavior,” said Plumas National Forest supervisor Chris Carlton. “We have a lot of veteran firefighters who have served for 20, 30 years and have never seen behavior like this, especially day after day.”
Those who have been following recent fire events know that they have been more severe than in previous centuries. Several factors have contributed to severe wildfires, especially in California. Some of the factors include poor forest management in the past and climate change.
Currently, California, like other parts of the world, is experiencing higher-than-normal temperatures. This has led to extra-dry conditions that are ripe for wildfires. When high temperatures suck moisture out of forests, it becomes difficult to slow down or contain fire outbreaks.
In the past decade, California has heavily invested in wildfire management, but some experts say more has to be done. One area that is falling behind is the early warning systems used. According to Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California Los Angeles, the state still uses traditional communication structures that cannot deal with the current rate of wildfires.
“These fires are outpacing the traditional communication structures,” said Swain. “I’ve spoken to people who are panicked and don’t know whether they need to leave, or which direction to leave.”
Swain recommends the operationalization of the Twitter model by hiring public information officers. In the past, some residents have been caught up in the wildfires due to poor communication. Swain believes that early warning and proper channels can be instrumental in dealing with the new nature of wildfires.
Lead image via Felton Davis