Earlier this week, 500 of the nation’s most majestic trees – some that have stood since before Julius Caesar ruled Rome — were threatened by wildfire. The fire skirted by the famous sequoias, leaving only superficial damage, but as the fire continues to burn the trees are still not out of the woods yet.

With record breaking wildfires burning in the American West, these threats have become commonplace in the last few years. Climate researchers say the escalation in Western fires is not coincidence, it’s climate change.

With bark up to 2 feet thick, these giants used to be protected from wildfire. But over the last 2 years, one in every 5 Giant Sequoias in existence — 20% of the global population — have been killed by fire. That’s because fires are now bigger and more intense, reaching higher up the trees and deeper into the trunks.

Fire weather days in this part of California, days when conditions are favorable for fires, have increased by 63 days per year.

Image Credit: Climate Central

This is due to an escalating drought in the Westthe worst in 1200 years and that’s causing a moisture shortage in the air and vegetation.

Credit: Williams Et al. 2022 / WFLA

A paper published last fall found that 2/3rds of this drying trend (vapor pressure deficit) is due to human-caused climate change and only 1/3rd  is due to natural factors.

Paper: Zhuang Et al. 2021 Image: WFLA

In California, 8 of the 10 largest fires on record have happened in the past 10 years. In Colorado, four of the state’s largest fires have burned in the past 5 years and New Mexico’s two largest fires both happened earlier this year.

Image Credit: WFLA

And things are not looking good for this upcoming fire season. Much of the West has seen its driest year (darker shade of brown below) on record with no significant rain expected in the next two weeks. Rainy season is several months away.

Image Credit: Climate Toolbox/ WFLA