Several huge, fast-moving wildfires have torched nearly 159,000 acres in Southern California this week and are expected to continue burn fiercely until at least Saturday. The newest one, the Lilac Fire, erupted in San Diego County on Thursday, burning 4,100 acres in just a short time.
“The sky is orange, you can smell the smoke, and you know people are losing their homes,” said University of California Los Angeles environmental scientist Glen MacDonald. “It really shows you our relative power to nature. We sometimes overestimate how much we can handle.”
The late-season fires, which are affecting several high population areas including the cities of Los Angeles, San Bernadino, and Ventura, are unusual but not unprecedented. MacDonald said several factors converged this year to create what he called the “perfect fire storm,” California’s worst fire season on record.
After years of drought, a wet winter nourished a bumper crop of grasses, shrubs, and trees throughout the state. Searing summer heat dried out this vegetation, with the Los Angeles region baking under record triple-digit temperatures as late as October. Over the long term, temperature and rainfall patterns are shifting due to climate change throughout California, but the south is getting it worse than the north.
Northern California suffered its own devastating fires in wine country last month, which incinerated 221,000 acres and killed more than 20 people.
For the Los Angeles region, it was only a matter of time before something set all the fuel ablaze. The fires also got an assist from the Santa Ana winds, which were especially strong this week. The National Weather Service on Wednesday activated the most extreme “purple” level fire threat. It’s reportedly the first time the agency has ever issued a purple warning in California.
Six large fires are now burning — the biggest are the Thomas Fire, Creek Fire, Rye Fire, Skirball Fire, and Lilac Fire. Here are a few of the most vivid images we’ve seen of the recent blazes and the fight to contain them.