Triple-digit temperatures and parched land have left much of California’s expansive forests vulnerable to any spark or flame.
The Carr Fire, which started on July 23 after a vehicle caught fire, has spread to nearly 100,000 acres as of July 30. From hundreds of miles above, satellite images show a state besieged by an imposing plume of smoke, with a vast part of the region blanketed in a thick, brown haze.
Vegetation in the drought-ridden terrain around the City of Redding, where the Carr Fire has prompted thousands to flee and has taken at least six lives, is now exceptionally dry.
In fact, it’s likely approaching either near-record or record dryness levels in Northern California, said Brenda Belongie, lead meteorologist of the U.S. Forest Service’s Predictive Services in Northern California, who works and lives in Redding.
NOAA’s #GOES17 satellite saw smoke from the #wildfires in northern #California late yesterday, note the high white clouds blowing over the brown-colored smoke beneath. This week a dangerous heatwave with triple digit temps is expected to exacerbate the situation. pic.twitter.com/NhroaD3RuB
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) July 30, 2018
While any fire is the result of a confluence of weather events — notably gusty winds, human carelessness, and lack of rain — California’s forests have been subjected to both heat waves and sustained periods of notably hot temperatures, both of which are enhanced by climate change.
“In California, persistent heat and dryness increased fire danger,” wrote the U.S. Drought Monitor on July 24, the day after the Carr fire began.
In particular, the area around Redding is experiencing conditions worse than “abnormally dry,” and is now listed as experiencing “moderate drought.”
Much of the entire heat-stricken Northern Hemisphere has recently experienced record heat waves or above-average summer temperatures.
Redding could be experiencing its warmest July on record, according to KRCR News meteorologist Rob Elvington.
Redding’s scorching 2018 summer isn’t an anomaly. Each of the city’s last June-July average temperatures for the last five years have been among the five hottest on record, noted Elvington.
These conditions have helped further dry out the land and spawn a fire that leapt over the Sacramento River last week. Those conditions also stoked a towering vortex that propelled the Carr Fire’s own violent weather system.
“This is a large and dangerous plume dominated fire in which spreading is not driven by the wind, but rather the fire itself,” the National Weather Service wrote over the weekend.
During the day, satellite images have picked up the fire’s towering plume, which exploded to over 20,000 feet in around 40 minutes.
Here is another radar rendering of the #CarrFire plume during the destructive vortex. The plume undergoes rapid vertical development, growing from 6 to 12 km (19->39Kft) in 40 min. Thats a lot of stretching and a possible explanation for vortex intensification. #CAwx #CAfire pic.twitter.com/1CTHAvl6Di
— Neil Lareau (@nplareau) July 29, 2018
The Carr Fire can also be seen easily from space at night, where it appears as bright as the Golden State’s sprawling cities.
California’s dramatic 2018 fire season, which forced a smoke-filled Yosemite National Park to close its iconic valley and brought flames back to the region’s wine country, follows the state’s harrowing 2017 season — its worst fire season on record.