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California wildfires have already burned 2.2 million acres in 2020 — more than any year on record

Wildfires rage across Western states
Wildfires rage across California and other Western states 08:48

California has yet to reach the peak of this year's fire season — but deadly wildfires across the state have already burned more acres than any year on record. According to Cal Fire, 2.2 million acres have burned so far, and the season is far from over. 

Two of the three largest fires in California's history are currently burning in the San Francisco Bay Area. The SCU Lightning Complex has burned more than 396,000 acres and is 95% contained as of Tuesday, and the LNU Lightning Complex has burned more than 375,000 acres and is 91% contained as of Tuesday.

The Creek Fire, which erupted Friday, has already become the third-largest that is currently active, burning more than 152,000 acres. It is 0% contained as of Wednesday morning.   

The fires have killed at least eight people and destroyed upwards of 3,300 structures, Cal Fire said. Most of the state remains under Red Flag Warning as strong winds and low humidity continue, exacerbating ongoing flames

The previous record for acres burned was set just two years ago. It included the deadliest wildfire in the state's history — the Camp Fire, which swept through the community of Paradise and killed 85 people.

Hundreds rescued as raging California wildfires decimate towns 04:20

Cal Fire said that the Golden State has seen over 2,650 more fires and a nearly 2,000% increase in the acres burned year-to-date compared with 2019. By this time last year, 4,927 fires burned through 117,586 acres. 

Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire, said it's "unnerving" to have reached a record for acreage burned when September and October usually are the worst months for fires because vegetation has dried out and high winds are more common.

At the same time, the region faced record-breaking temperatures over Labor Day weekend. Woodland Hills reached 121 degrees Fahrenheit on September 6, marking the highest temperature ever recorded in Los Angeles County, according to the National Weather Service. 

Due to the drought across the West Coast, "peak" fire season is predicted to last through the middle of September, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The end of the month will see a break in activity thanks to cooler temperatures, but winds could stir up more problems again in October. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom continues to reiterate the need to tackle climate change in order to prevent future fire seasons like this one. "We do not have time to deny the reality of climate change," he tweeted Tuesday. 

Climate change is making fires significantly worse, says CBS News meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli. Warmer weather means less humidity in the air and the brush, making it easier for fires to spread and making fires more intense. 

At the same time, a new study from Columbia University found that human-caused climate change will overtake natural oscillations as the primary driver of heat waves in the West. Increasingly, many regions around the world are likely to become essentially uninhabitable due to heat increases. 

Strong winds threaten California and Oregon fire fight 03:13
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