Why Does California Have So Many Fires?

Why Does California Have So Many Fires

With massive wildland fires in recent times, it goes without saying that fire season has been a common thing for California.

The dry season wears on the region a little bit too much.

Also, thanks to the warmer temperatures, you should not really be surprised to see the fire burning in different spots of CA.

But is that all to the destructive fires we see in California? Not really. There is so much more that explains what made the present-day wildfires worse.

And in this discussion regarding why does California have so many fires, we will explain them all.

What Are the Causes of California Fires?

So, there are loads of reasons behind the fires happening around California. But among all of them, people consider these to be the primary causes:

The Changing Climate

The Changing Climate

The first reason behind so many wildfires is the climate of California itself. Climate scientist, Park Williams, states that fire is a straightforward thing.

He further says that fire shall burn through as long as there is dry air,  dry stuff, and a spark.

Now, you might already know that California, like most of the West Coast states, gets its moisture during the fall and winter.

Then the dry season starts, which is basically the fire season.

Also, you might know that dry winters have not changed much during recent times.

In summer, the is almost no rain at all. And without a reliable rainy season, the vegetation gets dry reasonably fast. This parched vegetation is nothing but kindling for so many wildfires around the western united states.

But the thing is, California fires were not present in the past. It was prone to fire but not that prone to massive fires. So, you could actually blame climate change for these intense fires.

The climate scientists further added that the climate-change connection is very straightforward.

He explains that fire can build up quickly in warmer temperatures, and heatwaves can easily dry out fuels.

That means all you would need is just a spark for creating forest fires in areas with abundant dry fuels (dried vegetations).

Another thing you should note is that California’s fire dates all way back to 1932. But since 2000, the ten largest fires have occurred, and nine of them occurred in the past ten years.

That includes the larger fires that happened in 2018. These were truly the ten hottest years in California history.

According to National Geographic videos, fires were pretty unheard of up until the fall of 2012.

And climate change did come to light right around that time. That means you could say that climate change has been making the areas of California perfect for fire incidents for a relatively long time.



Faith Kearns of the University of California Institue told National Geographic, there are loads of variables shifting at the moment. And she is actually correct!

You can not really blame it all on climate change for spreading fires. Even if the conditions are right for devastating wildfires, you will still need someone or something to ignite the fire.

Sometimes, the thing that triggers the state’s fire season is nature, while sometimes, it is people.

When we say nature is igniting fires, we mean lightning complex fires, for example.

But many California wildfires are for downed power lines. Again, you could take the 2018 Carr Fire, for example. A truck blew out, and the tire managed to start fire successfully in the area.

Another fire accident that remains in the state’s history is the one that was from the gender-reveal party. Yes, it was not caused by nature. That fire happened in the east part of Los Angeles.

The whole area burned, and this individual fire burned a lot more trees than most of the nature-induced fire problems.

Even a campfire can cause fires! And there is history regarding such incidents as well. On that note, structures destroyed, animals dying, burn accidents for people who fought fire are typical cases for these people-induced fire incidents.

Additionally, people are moving near forest areas, which are also known as the urban-wildland interface.

These areas are more inclined to burn.

Moving away from these areas can certainly help. Greenhouse gas emissions are also a cause of all of the fire accidents.

In short, people not thinking about what could cause sparks during their day-to-day activities are driving most of California’s fires. And it is not all about climate change.

Fire Suppression

Fire Suppression

Dr.Williams stated that California has been fighting fire for the last century.

He further noted the people did fight fire pretty well in the West Coast and Western side of the United States.

But in recent years, the Forest Management Service has been trying to rectify its previous practices.

There is a new definition for practices that are good for controlled burns.

They have also addressed that fires burning in urban areas should be alerted as early as possible.

The earlier the team takes action, the less the consequences of the fires.

You can not also forget that many fires that burn closer to urban areas have a lot of traffic.

So, if people did not ignore the fires and investigated whether the fire burning is a campfire or not, fire accidents would drop down significantly. The faster reports would also make the fire suppression team more efficient.

The Santa Ana Winds

The Santa Ana Winds

Every fall, a strong gust of high winds flows through Southern California. These are known as Santa Ana winds.

And these bring a lot of dry air to the area.

Dr. Sun, the co-author of a 2015 study, suggested that California has two separate fire seasons.

The first one runs from June through September. This fire season is mostly driven by a combination of drier and warmer weather. Many people refer to this type of weather as the Western fire season.

But the fires that are caused by this season are mostly inland.

On the other hand, the second season runs from October to April. And this is the season that Santa Ana winds drive. These fires quickly burn the forests and spread three times faster.

They were also responsible for 80 percent of the total economic losses that occurred between the last two decades.

Additionally, the incidents caused by the Santa Ana winds do more than just only dry out the vegetation.

These are responsible for moving embers around. And as you know, embers cause fires to spread quickly.

Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear

The Smokey Bear’s famous mantra did more harm than good. The fire suppression teams have amped up their fire ecology for more than a century.

They have suppressed fires in the West, leading to vegetation overgrowth. At this moment, we are basically playing catch-up.

Many of California’s ecosystem has already adapted to these warm and dry weathers.

Trees that were in the cooler world category are pretty much invisible nowadays.

In fact, some of the plant’s species need fires to sprout!

Now how does the “Only YOU can prevent forest fires” mantra come into context? As we mentioned, many started to move closer to the forest areas.

These Wildland-Urban Interface habitation is causing more and more burnable structures to remain with the area of the forests.

And as a result, the fires are spreading more quickly.

Excess Fuel

Excess Fuel

In recent decades, a higher number of state has become vulnerable. Just like the NY Times reported, land management and engineering enabled the state to have tremendous growth.

And this growth has left the area more vulnerable to climate shocks.

That said, you probably know by now that California has revamped the mountainous and arid landscapes.

Those areas are now the wealthiest, most bounteous, and most populous places. And this whole growth came with a price.

Now, there are more dry areas in the area than ever.

And all of these arid regions are fuel for incidents.


Needless to say, California’s wildfire situation is pretty complex. One can not simply solve this complex issue by implementing a simple solution.

Climate change does seem to be one of the most significant factors. But if you look at the other reasons, you will find proper links between one another.

Again, if you even blame climate change for all of these issues, you must agree that we are the reason behind climate change.

It is nature’s way of adapting to the things we are doing.

Basically, the greenhouse gases that we produce underline everything.

It is the prime reason behind the change.

That will also explain why a lot of the places are drier than usual. And it would also explain why the West is looking ahead for a fiery future.

But what could be possible solutions? Better building codes, forest thinning, robust power grids, more renewable energy, and better response practice would be feasible solutions.

Talking of which, forest-thinning and prescribed burns would only protect some communities.

A large number of people would still remain vulnerable to wildfires.

Also, you could argue that reducing carbon emissions will help.

Again, that argument would fall into climate change criteria.

So, in reality, each and every action California is taking is very important and should be done by taking everything into consideration.

Understanding how to reforest areas, spreading awareness, and learning from the so many wildfires that took place in recent times could help the most.

Final Words

If you are still asking yourself why does California have so many fires, you need to know that the answer is not that simple.

There are a lot of reasons contributing to these accidents. And you can not simply point one for all of the havoc.

Recent Posts