(CBS News) — A wildfire burning in Northern California is now the state’s largest on record, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (Cal Fire). Not only is that blaze currently ravaging the region, but six of the 20 largest wildfires in California history are also burning.
Cal Fire shared a graphic on Twitter listing California’s 20 biggest wildfires. The August Complex fire, which has burned across several counties, tops the list. The fire originated as 37 separate ones in the Mendocino National Forest, according to the Associated Press. They were sparked by that hit California in August.
The August Complex has since burned more than 471,000 acres and was 24% contained as of Thursday morning.
The SCU Lightning Complex, LNU Lightning Complex, Elkhorn, North Complex, and Creek fires – all burning in California on Thursday, according to Cal Fire – also rank among the top 20 largest fires in state history.
Robert Rohde, lead scientist at the non-profit organization Berkeley Earth, shared even more eye-opening stats about the largest blazes. Nine of the 10 largest fires in the state have occurred since 2012, and 17 of the top 20 occurred since 2003, he said.
There has been a buildup of of brush, but climate change is making fires worse, says CBS News meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli. Air temperatures in the West have risen over the past few decades, which adds energy and heat to the atmosphere. That causes a “moisture deficit,” which can explain almost all of the increase in burned areas since the 1970s, research shows, according to Berardelli.
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.
Cal Fire said Thursday approximately 14,000 firefighters were on the line of 29 major wildfires in the state. “Although 37 new fires were sparked yesterday, crews contained most of them quickly though two have grown to large wildfires,” it said.
More than 3.1 million acres have burned in the state since the start of the year – another record. At least 12 people have died and more than 3,900 structures have been destroyed, according to Cal Fire.