California is battling the second and third largest fires in its history this week as wildfires spread quickly in a region west of Sacramento, quickly growing to surround 124,000 acres (50,000 hectares).
With tens of thousands of people evacuated, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency and as firefighters and volunteers try to fight the wildfires, Earth-orbiting satellites are monitoring the raging fire that is ripping through Northern California.
The satellite images document the devastating magnitude of the wildfires, with aerial imagery show California blanketed in dense smoke as flames ignite mountain, chaparral, and desert regions, with the white plume of smoke producing a "heat dome" over much of the state.
The extended heatwave, the dry forest conditions, and unusual August storms have contributed to the current situation California is in. According to National Interagency Fire Meteorologist Nicky Nausler, "7000+ lightning strikes have ignited 350+ fires including several large fires and complexes across central and northern California."
High resolution satellite imagery of wildfires burning last night in Northern California. pic.twitter.com/SodJKm9B1M— CIRA (@CIRA_CSU) August 21, 2020
These storms have produced more than 53,262 lightning strikes. 13,845 of those were cloud-to-ground strikes that have resulted in major fires and it should be noted that the amount of lightning that has occurred on those days is 9% of the amount that California usually sees in a year.
SATELLITE SPOTLIGHT: @NOAA's #GOES17🛰️ continues to track the extensive #smoke from the #wildfires across Northern California. This #GeoColor view shows the smoke blowing well away for the #fires, stretching hundreds of miles over the Pacific Ocean. #CAwx #CaliforniaWildfires pic.twitter.com/tjskieth8E— NOAA Satellites - Public Affairs (@NOAASatellitePA) August 19, 2020
California is not unfamiliar to wildfires and has seen a bunch of its own through the years; however, this year's wildfires are showing the effects of a changing climate. The 10 biggest fires in California history have all burned in the last 17 years, with three of the largest blazes happening after 2018.
Face masks that were being worn by residents to ward off the COVID-19 now are also being used to protect them from the effects of the smoke that has blanketed the state. As of this writing, over 48,000 people have been evacuated.