The largest wildfire ever recorded in California needed just 11 days to blacken an area nearly the size of Los Angeles — and it’s only one of many enormous blazes that could make this the worst fire season in state history.
About 14,000 firefighters from as far away as Florida and New Zealand are struggling to stop 18 fires carving their way through national forest land and neighborhoods.
“For whatever reason, fires are burning much more intensely, much more quickly than they were before,” said Mark A. Hartwig, president of the California Fire Chiefs Association.
California wildfire seasons are becoming more destructive because of drought and warmer weather linked to climate change. Construction of homes built deep inside forests also plays a role.
Some of the largest fires have erupted within the past few weeks as the state has experienced record-setting hot temperatures. And the historically worst months of wildfire season are still to come.
In Northern California, the Mendocino Complex — twin fires being fought as a single blaze — gained ground Tuesday but more slowly because its own smoke covered the area and lowered the temperature, according to the California Department of Forestry.
The flames, which had burned 457 square miles, were raging in mostly remote areas. No deaths or serious injuries were reported, but 75 homes were destroyed.
Resources were thin at first because thousands of firefighters were already battling a fire hundreds of miles north. That fire, which spread into the city of Redding, killed six people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.
In becoming the biggest in California history, the Mendocino Complex fire broke a record set just eight months ago. A blaze in Southern California in December killed two people, burned 440 square miles and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” Governor Jerry Brown warned last week. “Since civilization emerged 10,000 years ago, we haven’t had this kind of heat condition, and it’s going to continue getting worse. That’s the way it is.”