In August 2020, California is facing several major fires, including the LNU Lightning Complex Fire which grew into the second-largest wildfire in California history. The state’s heat waves, droughts, and lightning all played a role in the devastating fire season.
There are currently more than 360 fires throughout California, forcing approximately 50,000 people to evacuate.
The LNU Lightning Complex Fire, is around 350,000 acres in size, making it the second-largest wildfire in California history. The plumes of smoke can be seen from Earth-observing satellites, billowing out 250 miles into the Pacific Ocean.
California’s weather has been especially conducive to fires, with heat waves, droughts, and lightning occurring simultaneously.
The state has had an exceptionally dry start to 2020, ranging from abnormally dry to severe droughts in some areas. The droughts, coupled with heat waves bringing land surface temperatures up to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, have created precisely what fire needs to burn: Fuel.
Dried-out trees and brush make for sustaining, fast-spreading fires. A recent surge of lightning provided the spark in many places. In one 72-hour period in August, there were nearly 11,000 lightning strikes over the state.
Some of the fires that started due to those strikes have combined and formed large complexes of fires, like the LNU Lightning Complex and the SCU Lightning Complex.
Air quality is also a major issue. Wildfire smoke carries tiny particles into the air called aerosols that can affect breathing. On August 19, atmospheric testing showed that Northern California had the worst air quality in the world that day.
Black carbon, or soot, is also a harmful byproduct of wildfire smoke, and can be seen here through NASA’s GEOS-FP model.
But California is no stranger to wildfires. As the state becomes drier and hotter, fire seasons burn longer and more intensely.