Malibu is burning. So is San Diego. And as more than a dozen wildfires rage on in Southern California, caused by bone-dry weather and fierce desert winds, at least a quarter million people have been evacuated from homes, jails, hospitals, and nursing homes. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency as fires licked the suburbs of San Diego and downed a historic home that resembled a castle in Malibu.
As U.S. News' s Will Sullivan reported in May, the weather isn't always entirely to blame for the growing wildfire toll. As Americans have moved out west in droves, populating rustic areas where blazes are particularly common, firefighters have fewer opportunities to let fires burn, which eliminates dead timber and prevents out-of-control conflagrations later. This year California's fires began burning early as droughts got worse out west.
Los Angeles battled to save Griffith Park from blazes, and hundreds of people were evacuated from Santa Catalina Island in May. Warmer-than-normal temperatures and early snow runoff made for fire-friendly conditions all summer. And today's fires make it look as though those conditions have endured through the fall.