Epic scale of California wildfires continues to grow

The staggering scale of California’s wildfires reached another milestone Monday: A single fire surpassed one million acres.

The new mark for the August Complex in the Coast Range between San Francisco and the Oregon border came a day after the total area of land burned by California wildfires this year passed four million acres, more than double the previous record.

The August Complex began as dozens of fires ignited by lightning in the Mendocino National Forest in mid-August and became California’s largest fire on record in September. As of Monday, it covered nearly 1,566 square miles (4,055 square kilometres).

Since the beginning of the year, more than 8,200 California wildfires have scorched “well over 4 million acres” or 6,250 square miles, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Sunday in a statement. There have been 31 deaths and more than 8,400 buildings have been destroyed.

Numerous studies have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.

Mike Flannigan, who directs the Canadian Partnership for Wildland Fire Science at Canada’s University of Alberta, says the escalation of fires in California and the US West is “largely, not solely, due to human-caused climate change.”

The August Complex has destroyed 242 structures and damaged a half dozen. One firefighter has died and one has been injured. Containment was estimated at 54 per cent on Monday.

California remains largely warm and dry but fierce winds that fanned infernos a week ago were gone. Cooling at the coast was expected to expand into the interior and a Pacific storm system remained in the forecast for Northern California by next weekend.