California’s Mendocino Complex fire just became the largest wildfire in state history

A firefighter monitors a portion of the sprawling Mendocino Complex Fire.
A firefighter monitors a portion of the sprawling Mendocino Complex Fire.

Image: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

For the second time in less than eight months, California broke its record for the largest fire in the state’s history. 

Tuesday morning, the Golden State’s fire protection agency, Cal Fire, reported that the Mendocino Complex fire had now burned over 290,000 acres — over nine times the size of San Francisco — surpassing the previous record of 281,893 set in December by the destructive Thomas Fire.  

The Mendocino Complex, which is comprised of two massive fires whose edges are as close as three miles apart, is not nearly finished. The larger of the two fires, at some 240,000 acres, is just 20 percent contained.

Other major wildfires are also burning across the state, including the 94,000-acre Ferguson Fire which has closed down Yosemite National Park indefinitely, and the 167,000-acre Carr Fire — the twelfth largest in state history — which last week produced a towering fire tornado

Though climate change itself, specifically extreme and recording-breaking heat, doesn’t create fires, it enhances them. 

As fire experts pointed out earlier in the season, hot temperatures and heat waves have parched much of Northern California’s vegetation to near-record levels of dryness — turning the land to fire-ready kindling. 

California’s large-scale fires are creating seriously polluted air over vast portions of the West. 

As climatologist Robert Rohde noted on Twitter Monday, “the worst particulate air pollution anywhere in the world that we have data is in southern #Oregon due to the smoke from the #wildfires.”

This is a growing, and troubling, trend. As air quality continues to improve around most of the U.S., wildfires are tainting the air across a large swathe of the West. The reason is simple. Twice as much U.S. land burns today than in the 1980s, filling the air with more tiny bits of particulate matter. 

Since 2000, California has seen seven of its top 10 largest-ever recorded fires. 

What’s more, over the same period, the state has experienced eight of its 10 most destructive fires in history. 

The U.S. Forest Service is in its highest level of fire response, with 29,500 firefighters battling blazes around the nation. Most, however, are combating fires in the super-parched West, where the record-breaking Mendocino Complex promises to spread even more.

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Copyright or Author: Mark Kaufman
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