Five hundred firefighters, several firetrucks, and even a helicopter are battling a massive 7,000 acre blaze in Sierra Nevada, California. The fire, like so many in recent years is aggravated by drought. Fire season usually occurs in summer, because lightning strikes and the attendant high winds cause prime conditions for spreading. While the cause of the fire is not reported, and most likely not known, we do know that it was incredibly damaging. At least 40 homes were gutted, and three people were injured. The problem here is that drought makes good fuel. Think about trying to light a campfire. Obviously you would choose dry wood over wet wood for kindling. Lightning is so hot that it will make short work of even wet wood, but wet ground and wet trees around it tend to limit the fire’s spread. Ever since we humans have mastered fire, there are more human causes of fire than natural causes of it, and in fact up to 90% of wildfires are human caused. Things that are not quite as hot as lightning of course preferentially ignite dry kindling. A smoker who carelessly throws a cigarette into a patch of wet grass near a wooded area will not cause a fire if those leaves are wet, but very dry leaves in drought conditions, that’s a whole other story.
Brazil experiences frequent lightning strikes, and like all people, Brazilians make and control fire. While we are not yet aware of any serious fires in the country, it would not be a surprise to see some devastating fires in the near future. New Zealand has mounting concerns about droughts. California, bone dry for several years now, does not even have enough water to keep its cows. Many dairy farmers are moving away in part because of burdensome regulations, (though those have been in place for a long time,) but mostly because of drought. Many other states in the US, particularly the western states are in a snow drought, which of course portends continuing drought. The Thai government has declared eight provinces disaster zones due to severe water shortages in the country. While they usually have a dry season, this level of drought is profound.
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