Firefighters battle the so-called Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad, California May 14, 2014.
Reuters/Sam Hodgson
Firefighters battle the Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad, Calif., on May 14, 2014.

Drought-parched Southern California has erupted in flames, months before the state’s fire season used to normally begin. The fires threaten homes and schools – and a shuttered nuclear power plant.

More than 20,000 people were evacuated from their homes on Wednesday as wildfires tore through the San Diego area, where temperatures today could hit 106 degrees. From The Christian Science Monitor:

For many Californians, the wildfire season has settled into expectation and habit. But this year, the highly flammable combination of record heat, the seasonal Santa Ana winds, and lack of rain are exacerbating the problem and producing severe fire conditions several months ahead of the usual fire season.

California fire, civic, and police officials up and down the state are admonishing residents that more could be on the way with the state’s worst drought in a century and blistering Santa Ana winds resulting in some of the hottest May temperatures since record-keeping began in 1896. …

Funds and firefighters are exhausted with the relentless pace of the state’s 1,244 wildfires this year — already triple the state average — and US Interior Department officials are predicting no letup.

San Diego appears to be the hardest hit with at least nine different fires that have forced the closing of California State University at San Marcos and the San Diego Unified School District. At least 10,000 acres have burned, along with dozens of homes.

Some of the fires threaten the San Onofre nuclear plant, which was shuttered following radioactive leaks in 2012. The plant evacuated 13 non-essential employees yesterday.

The violent crackling sounds plaguing Southern California right now are what global warming sounds like, and the odor of the noxious smoke is what it smells like. These are the kinds of fires that are becoming more frequent as the climate changes, particularly in the American West, which is maxing out already-stretched firefighting budgets.