Science

Strong Winds This Weekend Could Make the California Wildfires Even Worse

Authorities fear that high-speed winds will push the Carr fire to more populated areas.
Authorities fear that high-speed winds will push the Carr fire to more populated areas.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

California was consumed by 18 wildfires over the course of this week, and strong winds that meteorologists have forecasted for the weekend will likely expand their reach. Firefighters are struggling to keep the flames at bay, and evacuation orders and air quality advisories remain in effect. At least six people have died so far.

The Carr fire, which started near Redding in northern California, has devastated more than 130,000 acres (an area larger than the size of Denver). It is already the sixth-most destructive fire in the state’s history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s records. As of Friday morning, the blaze was 39 percent contained. The Mendocino Complex fires, slightly to south of the Carr fire, are currently burning the fastest and have destroyed 112,226 acres, officials say.

Many of the fires burned fewer than 100 acres before firefighters brought them under control. Firefighters managed to bring four of the fires that began on Wednesday under control by Thursday evening, though containing these smaller fires has been sapping resources from the efforts to combat the larger ones.

Firefighters are bracing for a blustery weekend, which may change the course of the fires. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Carr fire is currently blazing a northwest path, which will lead it to a forested area with dry brush that will burn quickly. However, if a low-pressure system moves through the area as predicted, then 30-mile-per-hour winds will push the fire to the south in the direction of more heavily populated areas. Forecasted winds have prompted evacuation orders for the Mendocino Complex fires, as authorities fear the blaze may reach nearby communities with dry, flammable land.

High-speed winds were also responsible for exacerbating the destruction last week. On Thursday, the National Weather Service released findings related to a fire tornado that the Carr wildfire had produced on July 26. The large quantities of smoke and extreme temperatures from the fire created conditions for a vortex that packed 143-mile-per-hour winds. This vortex uprooted trees, tore tiles off of roofs, displaced vehicles, and bent fence posts. Buzzfeed News reported that this may have been the strongest fire tornado ever recorded.

During a press conference earlier this week, California Gov. Jerry Brown’s outlook was dour. He attributed the disaster to climate change and noted that such fires are now “part of our ordinary experience.” He added, “The more serious predictions of warming and fires to occur later in the century, 2040 or 2050, they’re now occurring in real time.”