LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. (NewsNation) — Wildfires are on a furious pace early this year — wind-driven flames tearing through vegetation that is extraordinarily dry from years-long drought exacerbated by climate change has made even small blazes a threat to life and property.
Across California, a fast-moving brush fire, dubbed the coastal fire, has scorched nearly 200 acres in the coastal community of Laguna Niguel. At least 20 large homes lay in charred, smoldering remains after quickly going up in flames and forcing a frantic evacuation.
Experts say extended fire seasons and dwindling water resources are evidence of the increasing impact of drought conditions on the West. It’s felt particularly in California, the USDA’s top agriculture-producing state.
Nationwide, more than 2,000 square miles have burned so far this year — the most at this point since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Predictions for the rest of the spring do not bode well for the West, with the drought and warmer weather brought on by climate change worsening wildfire danger.
“It’s not something we’re used to seeing this time of year or even during these types of conditions; the fuel moisture is so low that the fires are taking off and running on us,” said Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy.
Fire officials said there was not much they could do in recent days to stop the fast-moving flames burning in tinder-dry forests in the Sangre de Cristo range.
Fueled by overgrown mountainsides covered with Ponderosa pine and other trees sucked dry of moisture over decades, it’s now burned across more than 405 square miles — an area bigger than Dallas, Texas.
National data shows 2022 has been California’s driest year since the late 1800s.
It’s devastating to California farmers, hurting American grocery stores, restaurants and food pantries.
“What appears on a salad plate in a nice restaurant in Chicago oftentimes comes from California,” said Chris Schering, senior counsel of California Farm Bureau.
California farmers say they know how to deal with drought, using every tool imaginable to get through, but they hope for upgraded infrastructure to help maximize water resources.
“Most of the reservoirs are in a very low mode. and mainly what’s gonna get serviced is basic human health and safety needs, including, you know, the need for folks to have drinking water,” Scheuring said.
Rising food prices and shortages often arise from drought — an added issue given the ongoing supply chain crisis and the Russia-Ukraine War.
“Drought is ultimately about our food supply, and there are public policy options available — like the president perhaps is discussing that can be brought to bear,” Schering said.