Summer 2008 California wildfires
|2008 Summer California wildfires|
The wildfires as seen from space on July 9, 2008.
|Location||Northern and Central California|
|Date(s)||May 22, 2008 – August 29, 2008|
|Burned area||1,157,930 acres (4,686 km2)|
|Ignition source||Lightning, human caused, heat|
The summer 2008 California wildfires, collectively dubbed the Northern California Lightning Series by CAL FIRE, were a concentrated outbreak of wildfires during the summer of 2008. Over 2,780 individual fires were burning at the height of the period, burning large portions of forests and chaparral in California, and killing 23 individuals. The majority of the fires were started by lightning from dry thunderstorms on June 20, although some earlier fires were started on May 22. International aid from Greece, Cyprus, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand helped fight the fires.
The Basin/Indians fire in the Ventana Wilderness became the third largest in California history based on size and the second costliest to put out in U.S. history.
The fires broke out after three years of below-normal rainfall dehydrated much of California's forests and woodlands, making them prone to wildfires. Spring 2008 for California was the driest on record for many locations; for example, San Francisco registered only 0.67 inches (17 mm) of rain out of a normal of 5.18 inches (13 cm) from March to May. As vegetation turned into bone-dry tinder in early June, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought for the first time in 17 years. Dry thunderstorms and lightning, rarely seen on the California coastline in June, rolled onshore on the weekend of June 20 – 21. The storm unleashed 25,000 to 26,000 dry lightning strikes across Northern and Central California, igniting more than 2,000 fires. The number of wildfires skyrocketed in the days after the thunderstorms and high daily daytime temperatures of over 120 °F (49 °C) dramatically increased the various fires' growth. The same thunderstorms also caused fires in Oregon.
A heat wave commenced on July 7, with temperatures in inland locations, such as the Central Valley soaring above 115 °F (46 °C). Lake Berryessa recorded a high temperature of 126 °F (52 °C), prompting weather agencies like the National Weather Service to issue high fire danger warnings. These near to record-breaking temperatures concerned many firefighters, who feared that the high heat, low humidity, and high-elevation winds could make firefighting more strenuous.
John Juskie, a National Weather Service science officer, was quoted in June 2008 in the Los Angeles Times stating "in historic terms, we're at record dry levels." The spring of 2008 not only broke the record for least inches of rainfall, at 0.17 of an inch, it represented less than one-third of the previous record low of 0.55 of an inch of rainfall in 1934.
A record lack of rainfall, severely dry vegetation and uncharacteristically windy weather combined to create tinderbox conditions across Northern California. In most areas of Northern California, the grasses and brush were as dry in June as they normally would be in October. Moisture content was less than 2%, compared with about 40% normally for this time of year, fire officials stated. In addition, "no one has seen a springtime like this with the winds," Juskie said.
The first major fire was the human-caused Summit Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which started on May 22, 2008. On June 8, 2008, the next major fire to break out was the Indians Fire in the Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest. During the weekend of June 21–22, a dry low-pressure system crossed over California producing dry lightning and ignited nearly 2000 fires across 17 counties.
As of July 5, 2008, 328 fires continued to burn and 81% of the original fires had been contained. For the first time since 1977, the military helped with ground-based firefighting, when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger dispatched 400 California National Guard troops to man fire lines. He said the number of fires had stretched the state's fire-fighting resources thin. "One never has resources for 1,700 fires. Who has the resources for that?" Schwarzenegger said, adding "Something is happening, clearly. There's more need for resources than ever before... it's fire season all year round".
The lightning-caused Basin Complex Fire near Big Sur started on June 21 and burned 162,818 acres (658.901 km2), eventually torched the Ventana Wilderness until it merged lines with the Indians Fire. The Basin and Indians Fires consumed a combined 244,000 acres (987 km2) and was the third largest fire in California history. More than $120 million was spent to fight the fire, making it is the most expensive fire in California history and the second most expensive in U.S. history, exceeded only by the Biscuit Fire in 2002.
On July 5, 2008, California Governor Schwarzenegger commented that "I've been driving up and down the state of California going to all the various fires, and you can imagine, this state is very prepared for fire, but when you wake up one morning and have 500 fires across the state, it was a real shock to me... only to find the next morning there were 1,000 fires, and the next morning 1,400 fires, and then 1,700 fires igniting over 14 days."
The fires forced the evacuation of Big Sur prior to the July 4 holiday weekend. Camp Pico Blanco was forced to evacuate the camp and diverted its Scouts to Boulder Creek Scout Reservation in Santa Cruz. The camp lost only one building, an outlying ranger's cabin. Big Sur residents were permitted to return on July 9. while further north, the town of Paradise in Butte County was evacuated when flames burned close.
As of July 11, 2008, it was reported that a total of 793,483 acres (3,211.112 km2) had burned, a total exceeding the estimated 500,000 acres (2,000 km2) burned in the California Wildfires of 2007. On July 12, 2008, the area burned reached 801,726 acres (3,244.470 km2), exceeding the estimated 800,000 acres (3,200 km2) burned during the series of 2003 California wildfires making those wildfires in 2008 the greatest wildfire in California history by burned area. On that date 20,274 personnel had been committed to fight the fires. Total resources included 467 hand crews, 1,503 engines, 423 water tenders, 291 bulldozers, 142 helicopters, 400 soldiers and numerous air tankers. The fire was responsible for the deaths of 23 individuals. 
On July 25, a blaze sparked by target shooting broke out in Mariposa County, in the Sierra Nevada foothills of central California. By the following day, the Telegraph Fire had gone from 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) to 16,000 acres (65 km2), and within days had destroyed 21 homes in the community of Midpines. Residents were evacuated from approximately 300 homes that were immediately threatened, with an additional 4,000 homes placed on standby for evacuation in Midpines, Greeley Hill, and Coulterville.
Air quality in northern and central California, especially in the Central Valley from Bakersfield to Redding, deteriorated as a result of smoke from the wildfires. From June 21 to 27, much of Northern California was covered in a thick blanket of smoke, which reduced visibility and turned the sky yellow and the moon red. Some areas endured record levels of air pollution, along with hazardous concentrations of particulate matter. These smoky and hazy conditions prompted health officials to issue air quality advisories and warnings, as particulate matter reached unhealthy levels in the North Bay on June 25. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District urged the elderly and people with respiratory problems to stay indoors. In spite of the warnings, health officials noted a jump in the number of people with eye and throat irritation. The bad air quality also forced the cancellation of the 100 miles (161 km)-Western States Endurance Run, the first in the race's 31-year history. Air quality began to improve on June 28, followed by decreased smoke and improved visibility a day later. By June 30, residents in the Sacramento Valley saw blue skies and good air quality, as a result of onshore winds and the Delta breezes. However, air quality in Oregon degraded as plumes of smoke drifted northward instead of concentrating in the Central Valley.
Hazy conditions returned on July 7, along with high temperatures over 100 °F (38 °C) in the Central Valley. The heat and smoke combined forced public health officials and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue Spare the Air advisories and an emergency plan for heat waves, respectively. Air quality districts issued another Spare the Air day for July 8, July 9, and July 10, as calm wind conditions in Northern California failed to blow away the smoke from the wildfires.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Summer 2008 California wildfires.|
- 2010 California wildfires
- 2009 California wildfires
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- Old Fire (2003)
- Cedar Fire
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