Three wildfires sprung in northern and southern California on Nov. 8, burning up to 240,000 acres of land and taking the lives of around 80 people. The Camp Fire, the most catastrophic of the three, and the Woolsey Fire are still ongoing and are projected to be contained in the upcoming weeks. The Hill Fire in Ventura County is now fully contained.
Current estimates by the Butte County sheriff’s office show that over 1,300 persons are missing in areas affected by the November California wildfires, but that number is mostly raw data and contains inaccuracies. The recent death toll of the Camp Fire in northern California is 76, making it the deadliest wildfire in state history.
The Camp Fire began in Pulga, Butte County and quickly spread to the small town of Paradise, which are roughly ten miles apart. Paradise, with a population of 26,682, and the unincorporated community Concow have been destroyed by the Camp Fire. Over 50,000 residents from Pulga and the surrounding areas have been evacuated.
School was cancelled for 1.1 million public school students in areas with dangerous air quality and evacuations, according to a count from CALmatters. Among the California universities where classes have been cancelled sits UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Stanford and Pepperdine.
The causes of the Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire have yet to be confirmed, but fingers are pointing to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE). The companies supply power to a combined total of 19 million households in California.
Those responsible for the fires will likely be fined millions in property damage. By all accounts, that would be a just course of action in this devastating situation.
In recent years, PG&E has been notorious for causing some of California’s biggest disasters. The San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010 resulted in the deaths of eight people and 58 injured. PG&E equipment malfunctions reportedly caused 12 wildfires in Northern California in October 2017, which burnt up to 245,000 acres and left 44 dead.
It was not a surprise when both PG&E and SCE filed incident reports to the California Public Utilities Commission, respectively two and 15 minutes before the Camp and Woolsey fires were reported.
One day before the Camp Fire began, PG&E emailed a homeowner in Pulga that power lines on her property were prompting sparks. A circuit maintained by SCE in the Chatsworth substation crashed, which is likely the source of the Woolsey Fire.
President Donald Trump walked through the ruins of Paradise on Nov. 17 alongside California Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom. Trump approved Brown’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration on Nov. 12, allowing for the Federal Emergency Funding Agency (FEMA) to aid those affected by the California wildfires. Brown spoke on CBS’s Face of the Nation a day after the encounter and said that Trump will provide significant funds for California’s recovery efforts, calling it a “big, big win”.
This comes a week after Trump tweeted that federal funding to California would cease if forest management remains in “poor” handlings. The president wrote that forest management is the basis for why the California wildfires are catastrophic, but as news sources have pointed out, the federal government maintains 46 percent of California land. The Camp Fire began near the outer limit of Plumas National Forest, which is federally controlled land.
Whoever started the fires — whether it was indeed equipment malfunctions from PG&E and SCE or individuals that have yet to be confirmed — cannot take blame for how out of hand the fires have become, and neither can forest management.
Scientists agree that climate change, contrary to President Trump’s comments on forest management, is the reason why the fires had spread rapidly and much further than anticipated.
California’s temperature has risen about three degrees Fahrenheit since the early 1900s. Due to the warming air, plants are more susceptible to lose water and thereby dry out. Dry brush is more flammable than regularly watered plants, and with the added winds of over 50 mph, the chance of containing the Camp Fire within a short period was slim.
A study by Jay D. Miller and Hugh D. Safford discovered that, between 1984 and 2010, California’s fire intensity increased in regions with large amounts of yellow pine and mixed-conifer forests, which span across the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Although California is experiencing the worst fire in state history, scientists have found that the Golden State’s fire severity has had no set increase from 1984 to 2010.
Thanks to the presumably big electric companies that power the state and the increasing temperatures since the onset of human-caused climate change, California is now enduring the worst air quality in the world. The Golden State, which plans to use fully clean electricity by 2040, has surpassed the infamous levels of poor air quality most commonly found in India and China, two of the largest carbon emitting countries on Earth.
With Trump sending FEMA to California, the damaged property should be rebuilt within months. But the wildlife — the trees, plants, animals and ecosystems — will take much longer to grow back and recover. Organizations that are helping the affected civilians include the Red Cross, which would more than happy to receive donations. Those wanting to give assistance should consider donating blood, if able, to help make up for the blood drives cancelled due to the rampaging wildfires.