Drought & Deadly Wildfires
Now extreme weather is manifesting itself in the form of record drought conditions that produce famine in some parts of the world. Here in the U.S. drought followed by high winds and then combined with such phenomena as insect infestations in forest lands and manmade causes including land management and building code practices or electrical accidents have created some of the worst wildfires on record in California and in parts of the Southwest. As is often the case with extreme weather events, manmade factors can complicate and amplify the destructive force of the event itself. The Camp Fire in northern California in late 2018 became the worst fire in the state’s history killing more than 80 people and destroying thousands of homes. The 2019 “fire season” brought another round of deadly fires to the state and again in 2020 more fires raged – a lethal combination of drought conditions and man-made causes. The 2020 fire season far surpassed previous years and fires still burned even after the official end of the season.
In another year of severe drought and record extreme heat, the 2021 fire season was devastating with fires burning in as many as 15 states at the peak of the season, including two fires east of Phoenix, AZ that burned more than 100,000 acres in less than a week. During the Pack Creek Fire near Moab, Utah, Americares provided supplies for the Moab Free Health Clinic as poor air quality affects patients and staff. Oregon’s Bootleg Fire consumed more than 400,000 acres as the second round of heat waves has seen dozens of fires ignite across Western States. The Dixie Fire in Northern California consumed over one million acres and is the second largest in the state’s history. The Caldor Fire expanded rapidly and threatened communities, leading to more evacuations as the fire crossed into Nevada and approached the Lake Tahoe area. The Alisal Fire near Santa Barbara was the most recent threat in California before the heavy rains arrived. And past the normal end of the season, a sudden and enormous outbreak in Colorado burned hundreds of homes and forced the evacuation of thousands of people as extreme weather continued to create conditions for fires across the western U.S.
And already in 2022, fires have burned across Arizona, Nebraska and New Mexico. The New Mexico fire is the state’s largest recorded wildfire in modern history at 300,000 acres and growing. California, Colorado and Texas are seeing fires of increasing size and intensity. The fire season starts earlier and is lasting longer each year.
Then we face the deadly results of extreme heat which is actually a top weather killer – sometimes after a storm where power and access to clean water are lost – as happened in Louisiana after Ida. Heat kills nearly twice as many Americans each year as tornadoes and almost three times more than hurricanes. It is particularly deadly for the elderly and the poor. Climate change continues to intensify the deadly results of extreme weather events. Photo by Gene Blevins / REUTERS