Wildfires Fire season in California looks different these days. Temperatures are hotter. Fires are bigger and more destructive. Air quality is the worst in decades, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In recent weeks, dozens of wildfires have ignited across the state, threatening to burn rural and suburban communities and blanketing cities in a smoggy haze.

Although fire season is a perennial challenge in California, the scale and destruction of fires in recent years feel worse than anything many can remember.

To see whether that’s true, The Times analyzed decades of data tracking California wildfires and the destruction they’ve wrought. The analysis found that wildfires and their compounding effects have intensified in recent years — and there’s little sign things will improve.

Record-breaking wildfires are occurring more often. Eight of the 10 largest fires in California history have burned in the past decade. On Sept. 9, the massive August Complex became the largest fire in the state’s history.

Taken together, they dwarf the 10 biggest fires from the decade before.

Hundreds of wildfires, of varying size, scorch the state each year. The total area consumed has increased sharply this decade. With fire season still beginning, 2020 has already shattered the all-time record with 3.2 million acres burned so far.

Since the state’s fire season usually doesn’t peak until fall, when Santa Ana and Diablo winds pick up, this record-breaking year may still get much worse.

Californians have long built homes in fire-prone areas, but the past several years have brought unprecedented property loss to communities. Seven of the 10 most destructive fires in state history have burned in the last five years.

The home and property damage is scattered across the state, often isolated to rural areas. Taken together, the devastation has been massive. To compare, there are roughly 5,100 buildings in downtown Los Angeles.

From 2001 to 2010, wildfires destroyed 12,428 structures across the state. That’s a building footprint more than twice the size of downtown.

However, these totals pale in comparison to those of the past decade, in which almost 30,000 structures have been destroyed. That’s the equivalent of more than five L.A. downtowns.

Large fires are releasing smoke into the air, covering cities in an orange haze.

It’s not just a California problem. Wildfire smoke can stretch clear across the country. On Monday, smoke plumes reached all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

When wildfire smoke settles close to the ground, it spreads harmful microscopic particles. These invisible granules, when inhaled, can enter the bloodstream and cause inflammation that affects many parts of the body.

Since 2015, scientists have reported “very unhealthy” levels of these particles in the Napa Valley area 15 times, a reading not recorded in the five years before.

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