Part of the reason California has become a tinderbox of trees and brush is that most of the state suffers from some level of drought. The problem is now actually worse in other states in the West, including Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Oregon, and most of Colorado and New Mexico.
The Camp Fire in Northern California and the Woolsey Fire near Los Angeles are measured together as larger than the city of Chicago and are growing. They are the largest in California’s history. At least 71 lives have been lost. About 1,000 people are missing.
The areas of California that suffer from drought, according to the Drought Monitor, are mostly “abnormally dry” and have “moderate drought” conditions, the two least dry levels assigned by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The higher levels assigned by the academic institution are “severe drought,” “extreme drought,” and “exceptional drought.” Each of these is given a number from D0 for “abnormally high” to D4 for “exceptional drought.”
Oregon faces a much more difficult drought situation than California. Nearly half the state suffers from “exceptional drought.” The drought levels in Nevada are similar to those of California. The worst drought situation in the country is the corner where Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado come together. This area, known as Four Corners, has a drought designation of D4. It extends well into Colorado and New Mexico.
The Drought Summary issued by the organization for this week says the California situation will not get any better soon, “Continued dry conditions in California led to an expansion of an area of Moderate Drought (D1) in the Sacramento Valley, extending to the western foothills of the northern Sierra Nevada.” Some areas of Colorado should see improvement, “In the Rockies, widespread snow showers were observed in the Front Range and adjacent foothills as well as in the Sangre de Cristo Range, leading to improvements on the map in north-central and south-central Colorado.” Rain and snow should improve conditions in some areas of New Mexico and Arizona. However, drought is not forecast to disappear in any of these areas.
The California fires are nowhere near the areas of the U.S. that have the most severe lack of water. The people in those areas should count themselves as fortunate.