A single, devastating California fire season wiped out years of efforts to cut emissions from the state’s vast oil and gas industry, leaving scientists scrambling for solutions to protect the planet as global CO2 levels rise.
The California fires last year were one of the worst in U.S. history as they burned through eight million acres, spewing more than 1.5 million tons of pollution into the air.
That’s roughly equivalent to the emissions of 17,500 passenger cars — one third of the state’s entire capacity — spewing pollution that can travel around the globe, according to a report last year from the environmental group Sierra Club.
The report noted that the fires are part of a pattern of fires — including the Colorado fires of 2012, the Arizona wildfires of 2007, the B.C. wildfires of 1968 and the California fires of 1994 — that are killing more than 600 homes, displacing thousands of people and killing at least 25 people.
A year in the lives: What we learned from the California fires
The deadliest of the eight million acres devastated by California’s devastating wildfires, which killed more than 84 people and destroyed more than 10,000 homes, was in Paradise, a coastal town of nearly 3,000 people.
The fire that led to the deadliest loss of life, however, was the Woolsey fire that started Aug. 6 near Bakersfield. It consumed more than 100 acres of the rural community of Paradise and killed 12 people so far.
The wildfire that burned through Paradise killed the mayor and other officials who had tried to fight the fire and caused so much damage that firefighters needed to use a bulldozer to clear the rubble from the burned-out areas.
A year later, the Los Angeles Fire Department had to begin the dangerous process of removing debris from some of the buildings destroyed in the fire, including 20 that belonged to the National Security Agency, a military spy facility in nearby Victorville. There, the building would be used for temporary housing until the fire could be extinguished.
There are other ongoing blazes in Southern California, including the Malibu fire that started in late September, has destroyed more than 5,000 homes and forced 17,000 residents to evacuate.
As for the northern California fires, there were more than 400 confirmed deaths, 7,250 people displaced from their homes and an estimated $1.5 billion in damage.