Wildfires & Climate Change
Climate change, primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires not only in California but also all over the world. Since 1950, the area burned by California wildfires each year has been increasing, as spring and summer temperatures have warmed and spring snowmelt has occurred earlier.
During the recent “hotter” drought, unusually warm temperatures intensified the effects of very low precipitation and snowpack, creating conditions for extreme, high severity wildfires that spread rapidly. Of the 20 largest fires in California’s history, eight have occurred in the past three years (since 2017). The ongoing August Complex Fire is now the largest recorded wildfire in California, surpassing the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire.
CARB staff estimates annual wildfire emissions using a model developed by the U.S. Forest Service and data from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and a consortium of federal agencies. These estimates are separate from the statewide greenhouse gas emissions inventory, which is a compilation of manmade, fossil fuel-generated emissions, and helps the state monitor progress toward its climate goals.