During last year’s devastating wildfire season in California, 33 people lost their lives and over 10,000 homes were destroyed as fires raged across some four million acres.
And the 2021 season threatens to be far worse. So far this year, some 500 more fires have been recorded than at the same point in 2020.
Between January 1 and July 11 of this year, the California Fire Department has recorded some 4,163 fires, 518 more than on the same date in 2020.
The most recent outbreak, the River Fire in southern California, has already burned 9,500 acres and is currently just 15% contained, according to an update from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
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The department is also battling the Beckwourth Complex Fire, which has already burned more than 92,900 acres, the Lava Fire (26,203 acres to date), and the Salt Fire, which has so far burned 12,650 acres.
The Bootleg fire, which burned its way though more than 201,000 acres in neighbouring Oregon before reaching northern California, now threatens the state's entire energy supply.
The California Independent System Operator has issued "flex alerts" to residents, urging Californians to conserve as much electricity as possible during peak hours.
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Hot, dry conditions across the state are likely to bring more fires as the summer continues.
"It's now more critical than ever that all Californians are prepared for wildfires," fire department officials said.
On Saturday, temperatures in Death Valley in California's Mojave Desert reached 53C (128F) according to the US National Weather Service.
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The severe drought conditions have prompted California’s state Governor Gavin Newsom to a regional state of emergency.
He has also issued an executive order asking residents to voluntarily cut down on water usage by 15%.
In a statement announcing the order, he said: ”The realities of climate change are nowhere more apparent than in the increasingly frequent and severe drought challenges we face in the West and their devastating impacts on our communities, businesses, and ecosystems”.
Fire officials have advised residents to create wildfire action plans, and to be prepared for potential evacuations.
Even if fires don’t reach the cities, warming weather trends are a growing concern.
US government research predicts that heatstroke and similar illnesses will claim tens of thousands of American lives each year by the end of the century.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg today warned: "Deadly heatwaves, floods, storms, wildfires, droughts, crop failures… this is not ‘the new normal’.
“We’re at the very beginning of a climate and ecological emergency, and extreme weather events will only become more and more frequent.”
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