CALIFORNIA - "We simply haven't seen anything like this in many, many years," says California Governor Gavin Newsom.
An area the size of Rhode Island is on fire in the state, says Newsom. And only 20 percent of it is contained.
More than 650 wildfires are currently ravaging 1.2 million acres of forest across the state, most of which were sparked by a "lightning seige" that began last week. High winds are only making matters worse.
Here's a quick list of numbers:
  • 1.3 million acres have burned in a month - a number unmatched this early in the fire season. In the entirely of last year, 259,000 acres burned.
  • 14,000 firefighters are currently on the front lines.
  • 1,100 structures have been destroyed, says the LA Times. More than 80,000 buildings remain at-risk.
  • Almost a quarter of a million people are under evacuation orders.
  • At a fine particulate matter of 2.5, air quality has reached levels among the worst in the world, says the National Weather Service. 
  • At least 7 people have been killed.
On Saturday, the White House approved the state's request for a presidential major disaster declaration.
Of the approximately 33 million acres of forest in California, federal agencies (including the USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service) own and manage 19 million acres (57%). That leaves around 3 percent controlled by the state and 40 percent by private industry.
California is a key state for the lumber industry. It also dominates the woodworking industry in general, with the most cabinetshops, furniture operations, architectural millwork firms, and window and door makers of any state.
Understanding forest fires
In his article, "Understanding forest fires from a forestry point of view", Dr. Gene Wengert explains causes, the effects of forest management and mismanagement, regional differences, and how to protect property.
"A forest fire needs a source of ignition. It needs fuel and needs oxygen. The ignition source is often cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, but human activities do cause many fires. The fuel source is wood, leaves, needles and understory grow including brush and grass.

The speed of burning and the speed of expansion of a forest fire into new fuels depends to a large extent on the presence of oxygen. In turn, this means the wind speed is a huge factor in the life of a fire, as the wind brings in oxygen, as well as carries burning embers into new fuel sources.

Further, as might be expected, the openness of the fuel (open to blowing wind, such as the needles on a standing tree versus the needles that have fallen to the ground) is important in the intensity of the fire."

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