Southern California’s Wildfires Will Get Worse Before They Get Better

It’s been the most destructive wildfire season in California history, and it’s getting worse.

Conditions in California are especially ripe for devastating fires at the moment, with tinder-dry undergrowth; strong, volatile winds; and terrain that’s difficult for firefighters to traverse. Those natural catalysts are compounded by the proximity of several current fires to large population centers.

In just the past three days, multiple fires have started in the hills of Los Angeles and surrounding cities. As of Wednesday evening, most of them were barely contained, if at all.

A red flag warning ― alerting residents to conditions of extreme fire danger ― was in effect for much of Southern California through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service, with high winds expected to pick up around Los Angeles and Ventura counties on Wednesday night into Thursday.

“We are still in a very active and dangerous situation,” Ventura City Fire Chief David Endaya said in a press conference Wednesday evening. “We are doing everything we can. We are facing dangers tonight and tomorrow. With the predicted wind, it could become a worse event than it is right now.”

A map of the fires surrounding Los Angeles Wednesday morning. Red and yellow icons indicate a fire that’s actively burning. A gray icon marks a fire that’s 100 percent contained.

The largest of those, the Thomas fire, has so far burned over 90,000 acres and had 5 percent containment as of Wednesday evening, according to Ventura county officials. The fire has destroyed at least 150 structures (that number is expected to grow substantially ― the latest incident report lists 12,000 structures as threatened) and forced the evacuation of 50,000 people.

The windy hills that birthed the Thomas fire haven’t seen a decent rainfall in at least eight months, the Los Angeles Times notes. And the strong Santa Ana winds that funnel through the steep hills around LA, feeding and spreading fire as they do, are projected to build in strength this week, peaking at up to 80 mph on Thursday.  

“The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday night. “Really, Mother Nature is going to decide when we have the ability to put it out … it is pushing hard.”

Though California has the largest fleet of firefighting aircraft in the world, those planes typically can’t drop fire retardant in winds higher than 30 mph, California…

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