The First Gigafire in the United States for over a Decade

Written By: Clare Kelly 

CALISTOGA, CA – OCTOBER 01: Firefighters perform structure protection against the Glass Fire in Napa County along CA-29 just past Old Lawley Toll Rd on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 in Calistoga, CA.

Unfortunately, the California fire that’s been closely monitored since the beginning of August, as grown in magnitude across the state. On Monday, Oct. 5, the classification of California’s fire grew a “megafire” to a “gigafire.” 

According to The Guardian, this fire has grown to be larger than Rhode Island. ” The Smithsonian Magazine reports that this fire became upgraded from a “mega-fire” which applies when the fire burns hundreds of thousands of acres, to “‘gigafire’” which applies when the fire expands to burn over a million acres. The Guardian reports that the fire consumes land in seven different counties of California and has now been burning for 50 days with only half the burning areas being contained by Cal Fire. 

As reported by the Smithsonian Magazine, the fire emerged from a huge thunderstorm that ravaged the area and kindled many smaller fires that blended to create “the August Complex Fire”—California’s first-ever “gigafire. Another contributing factor to the intensity of these fires includes how California was inflicted by a heatwave throughout the summer. Additionally, The Guardian reports that scientists see an increase in fires due to the climate crisis of both rising temperatures and the extended drought. The smoke created from these fires has covered the west coast and has even “blot out the sun.”

Rasha Aridi of Smithsonian Magazine reports this as the “first gigafire in the United States for ten years.” She writes that California lost four million acres of land to these fires, a staggering amount that increased the state’s preceding record by two-fold. Aridi shares that “[o]f the states 2 largest wildfires in history, 17 have occurred since 2000; four of the top five occurred during fire season alone, reports Gizmodo.” As reported by Andrew Freedman of the Washington Post, this year alone, over 8,400 wildfires burned in California, killing 31 people and destroying more than 9,200 structures. 

CNN reports that the last gigafire in the United States was in 2004, located in Alaska when the Taylor Complex burned around 1.3 million acres in 2004. And in 1998, the Yellowstone Fire, located in Montana and Idaho, burned around 1.58 million acres. 

Andrew Freedman reported for The Washington Post, that the mixture of heat and wind concurring this week comes from a comprehensive area that has high pressure, called a heat dome. This system, building in from the west, brings above-average temperatures for both the area and the period of the year. These temperatures might even exceed the “century mark” for areas that are more inland in California. Rasha Aridi of the Smithsonian Magazine stated a study completed by Climate Central that implied these wildfires “have become three times more common and the fire season lasts three months longer since the 1970s,” as reported by Brian Kahn of  Gizmodo

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Cal Fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, reported over 11,500 firefighters still attempting to control the 21 wildfires, of which 13 are substantial incidents. On Oct. 12, many firefighters answered the spread of the fires as 34 new wildfires emerged, but each became quickly controlled. 

Meanwhile, according to the Cal Fire Twitter Account, the Glass Fire located in Napa County extended to 67, 484 acres with about 97% containment, and the Zogg Fire in Shasta County sits at 56, 338 acres but 100% has been contained.

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