California hit by record-breaking fire destruction: ‘Climate change is real, it’s bad’

Plumes of smoke ise above Frenchman Lake as the Sugar fire burns in Plumas National Forest on Thursday.
Plumes of smoke rise above Frenchman Lake as the Sugar fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex, burns in Plumas National Forest on Thursday.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

California is off to another record-breaking year of wildfires as the state enters its most dangerous months, with extreme heat and dry terrain creating the conditions for rapid spread.

More than twice as many acres burned in the first six months of this year than during the same period last year — and hundreds more fires, officials said.

June saw a series of destructive blazes that swept through rural counties at the northern edge of the state, fueled by a historic Pacific Northwest heat wave. But July is already shaping up to be worse.

The Sugar fire had spread to 83,256 acres as of Sunday, making it the largest so far this year in California. Flames swept into the small town of Doyle, destroying homes and other structures. Sparked by lightning in the Plumas National Forest, it forced 3,000 to flee their homes in Plumas and Lassen counties.


The news comes after months of concerning forecasts and warnings about what the 2021 wildfire season may bring. Officials said the increased activity is being driven by hot, dry conditions that have plagued much of the West Coast for weeks, while scientists noted that shifting jet streams and the state’s unique topography are also contributing to the earlier and more frequent conflagrations.

One thing everyone agrees on is that climate change is a factor that cannot be ignored.

“The exceptional fire weather this year and in recent years does not represent random bad luck,” said Jacob Bendix, a Syracuse University professor who specializes in pyrogeography, or the study of wildfire distribution. “It is among the results of our adding carbon to the atmosphere — results that were predictable, and indeed that have been predicted for decades.”