At a news conference in mid-August of last year, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, announced that there were 367 “known” wildfires burning in the state. “I say ‘known’ fires,” Newsom said, “but the prospect of that number going up is very real.” A couple of days later the number did, in fact, increase, to 560. A few weeks after that, many of the blazes were still burning, and one—the Doe fire, north of Santa Rosa—had grown into the largest conflagration in California history. The smoke from the state was so bad that it veiled the sun in New England. By the time most of California’s flames had been put out in late November, at least 31 people had been killed and tens of thousands evacuated.
Even as more than 15,000 firefighters were battling the California wildfires, Hurricane Laura was bearing down on Louisiana. As it passed over the Gulf of Mexico, it strengthened at a near-record rate. In just 24 hours it zoomed from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm. By the time it hit Cameron Parish, early in the morning of August 27, it was the fifth fiercest hurricane to make landfall in U.S. history. The storm caused at least 16 U.S. deaths and up to $12 billion in damages.