Dry winds that approached hurricane strength whipped at least a dozen wildfires into frenzies that killed one, injured at least 14 and destroyed dozens of buildings, including a church and estate in Malibu, according to the Los Angeles Times, after the sudden fires on Sunday "scorched thousands of acres from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara County, destroyed at least 39 homes and other buildings and killed at least one person," as the L.A. Times put it. Nearly 4,000 buildings remain threatened by fire.
The worst damage was in Malibu, San Diego and the communities of Agua Dulce and Canyon county, according to the Times. Fires also raged in Orange County, among other places.
Dry winds that gusted up to 80 mph, coupled with drought and a build-up of brush all contributed to the intensity and number of blazes. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in several areas.
Several fires are expected to keep burning, including the Malibu fire, which has already claimed 2,200 acres and the Castle Kashan, a landmark estate, and the Malibu Presbyterian Church.
The fire names include the Buckweed Fire around Agua Dulce and the Witch Creek fire around San Diego.
The fire season in 2007 has already been unusually active. As of Friday, 76,285 fires had burned 8,284,271 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Thats second only to last year, during which more land burned than in any year in recorded history.
A combination of climate change (triggering hotter, drier conditions) and decades of aggressive fire fighting (which led to a build up of fuel waiting to burn) have contributed to an unprecedented fire risk across the Western United States. Scientific research has already attributed an increase in frequent and intense fires to global warming, even considering the effect of fire management techniques.
There were four times as many major wildfires between 1986 and 2004 as there were from 1970 to 1986, and a six-fold increase in the area of forest burned in the Western United States. The active wildfire season has increased by more than two months, and individual fires are burning longer -- up from barely a week on average to more than five.
In other words, the growth of the fire season -- starting earlier and lasting longer -- and the intensity of its fires are likely to become more and more familiar, if no less dangerous.
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