California’s Wildfires Just Tripled in Size

2016 is shaping up to be another epic fire season.

Smoke from wildfires in the Angeles National Forest earlier this month.Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

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When it comes to forest fires, California can’t seem to catch a break.

Last year was a hellacious one for uncontrolled burns, and 2016 is looking just as bad. In the past week, the number of acres scorched by wildfire has tripled from around 32,000 to more than 98,000, according to the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The number of fires the department, known simply as Cal Fire, has responded to is slightly above the seasonal five year average. But it’s early in the fire season. (California’s 2013 Rim Fire, the largest ever recorded in the Sierra Nevada, began in early August and blazed on into October, torching more than 257,000 acres.)

Local, state, and federal firefighters have already dealt with more than 2,400 wildfires so far this season, say’s Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire’s information officer. Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Southern California’s Kern County, where the largest of those conflagrations still rages; the Erskine fire covers more than 45,000 acres and is only 40 percent contained. It has killed two people so far, destroying 150 homes and damaging 75.

California has more than 66 million dead trees, the US Forest Service estimates—more than double last year’s count.

In recent years, drought conditions have fueled fires across the state. El Niño conditions brought badly needed rain this past winter, but the wetter conditions also begat a bumper crop of grasses that are now reduced to dry fuel. “The rain is always a blessing and a curse,” Berlant says.

In addition, thanks to prolonged drought and hungry bark beetles, California has more than 66 million dead trees, the US Forest Service estimates—more than double last year’s count. In short, the state is a tinderbox.

Ahead of the July 4 weekend, Cal Fire officials warn that they’ll be confiscating illegal fireworks. They’re also urging residents to keep fireworks away from dry, flammable materials. Which should be pretty obvious, but sadly…

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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