Jan 9, 2020

U.S. wildfires scorched 4.6 million acres of land in 2019

A firefighter using a drip torch near Somis, California, Nov. 1. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

49,661 wildfires burned 4.6 million acres in the U.S. in 2019, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC).

Why it matters: That's a 46% drop in acres burned and an 11% decrease in total fires from the 2018 season.

Yes, but: Though the 2019 season was less active in terms of the total number of fires and acres destroyed, catastrophic fires still resulted in fatalities and damaged or destroyed structures.

  • The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, California, burned 77,758 acres, injured four first responders and destroyed 374 structures and damaged 60 others. The fire's cause is still under investigation.
  • The 1,011-acre Sandalwood Fire in Riverside County, California, killed two civilians, destroyed 76 structures and damaged 14 others after a truck dumped burning trash into brush.
  • The Saddleridge Fire tore through 8,799 acres in Los Angeles County, killing one civilian and damaging or destroying at least 31 structures, according to the Los Angeles Times. The fire's cause is also still under investigation.

The big picture: 2019 was the fourth least active fire season in the last decade in terms of acres scorched by wildfires.

Of note: Last year was the second-wettest year on record, with record-high precipitation in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, according to the Weather Channel.

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Australia's deadly fires: What you need to know

The Australian flag flies under red skies from fires on Jan. 4 in Bruthen, Victoria. Photos: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The Orroral Valley fire has burned through nearly 25% of the district that's home to Australia's capital, News.com.au reports, after ACT Emergency Controller Georgeina Whelan said the fire was rapidly growing into the south east on Saturday.

The latest: The Orroral fire grew from 81,544 acres to at least 129,073 acres on Saturday, based on Whelan's initial statement, and ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr's following estimate. Whelan said the Orroral fire is expected to move "well into" New South Wales, which creates potential for it to reach and merge with other bushfires in the area.

Thousands protest for climate action in Australia as fires ravage continent

Participants hold placards as they take part in a demonstration demanding the government take immediate action against climate change in Sydney on Jan. 10. Photo: Mohammad Farooq/Getty Images

Thousands of protesters took to the streets across Australia on Friday, calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to resign for what they call inaction on climate change and an inadequate response to the bush fire crisis that has scorched the continent, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: Morrison's stance on climate-related issues has come under scrutiny throughout the deadly wildfire season. In particular, his "reputation as a coal advocate has not helped as he has struggled to project empathy for victims of the fires," the Post writes.

Go deeperArrowJan 10, 2020

The future of firefighting

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The world is entering the age of extreme fire — and we're increasingly unprepared for it.

The big picture: As we've seen in Australia, California and the Amazon, fires are burning hotter, longer and more frequently around the world. Our resources to suppress them are stretched dangerously thin. And even though the wildfires are getting worse, the way we fight them hasn't changed in a century.

Go deeperArrowJan 15, 2020