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California Wildfires in Los Angeles, Ventura December 2017

Are California Wildfires Normal? No, but They're Becoming the Norm

After widespread wildfires devastated parts of the Pacific Northwest this Fall, on Dec. 5, two new California wildfires sprung up in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate the area. The two fires combined have ravaged over 60 acres of land and have set off the evacuations of homes and schools in the area.

Less than a day after this news broke, a new fire in West Los Angeles threatened the area, putting institutions like The Getty Center at risk.

It's only been two months since the devastating Northern California fires — which razed nearly 8,400 homes and 7,500 structures — and the severe Orange County fire that happened concurrently. These new December fires also come just three months after Los Angeles' biggest fire by acreage. While fires in California are in some ways typical, the scope and devastation seen in 2017 is truly unprecedented, making this year the worst fire season the state has ever seen — and this designation was given even before the fires this week.

Are these fires normal? No, but they represent an unfortunate "new normal" that has been decades in the making, that experts have forecasted since the 1980s. As the Sierra Club noted in mid-October, the 2017 fires are the result of increasingly warmer and drier conditions due to climate change. Paired with seasonal dry winds that quite literally fan flames, these already unfortunate conditions are ripe for disaster and will place further strain on already limited fire and forest services in the area.

Moreover, the current fires in Southern California are quite an anomaly given their time of year. According to Chief Daniel Berlant — Calfire's Assistant Deputy Director, who recently spoke with The New York Times "fires in the Winter months are uncommon." LA area meteorologist Rick Dickert reiterated the oddity of this situation, saying that he had never "seen this many [fires] in the month of December."

In response to the current situation, both California Governor Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have declared a state of emergency. The situation is still developing but, paired with an already unseasonably warm Winter across the United States, the concerns that this situation will persist (and recur) are quite serious.

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