With most of California in the grips of an unusually severe drought, the state’s fire management authorities are prepared for the worst. The state’s forests and grasslands are parched and primed to burn. All it would take is one stray cigarette or lightning strike—combined with strong winds and hot weather—to unleash a blaze so large or damaging that it ends up in the record books. And yet, so far, the 2014 season has been surprisingly free of such headline-grabbing fires.
Californians have certainly seen plenty of fire in 2014. A total of 4,172 fires have burned 83,282 acres (33,703 hectares) since the beginning of the year—far more than usual. For comparison, during the previous five seasons, an average of 3,198 fires burned 57,444 acres (23,247 hectares) by mid-August, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection statistics.
But none of the 2014 blazes have grown to be particularly large or destructive. California’s list of largest fires includes several blazes that destroyed more than 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares), such as the Rim Fire in 2013, the Rush Fire in 2012, and the Cedar Fire in 2003. The largest in 2014 has been the Bald fire in Lassen National Forest, which charred about 40,000 acres (16,000 hectares). In 2014, several fires have destroyed structures here and there, but none have devastated entire neighborhoods. The state’s historical list of most damaging fires includes events that destroyed 1,000 structures or more.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of wildfire activity in California on August 24, 2014. Red outlines indicate hot spots where MODIS detected unusually warm surface temperatures associated with fires. The Happy Camp Complex, Man Fire and July Complex are visible in northern California. Most of the large fires have been in northern California, while central and southern California have been largely free of fire to date.