California Wildfires the Most Fatal in Its Recorded History

Flames began to devour California’s forest landscape on October 8. Since then, thousands of people have been evacuated as fire teams have joined forces to contain and extinguish the flames. (Image: Daria Devyatkina/Flickr; CC 2.0
Flames began to devour California’s forest landscape on October 8. Since then, thousands of people have been evacuated as fire teams have joined forces to contain and extinguish the flames. (Image: Daria Devyatkina/Flickr; CC 2.0

Flames have been eating away at California’s forest landscape since October 8. Thousands of people have had to be evacuated, away from their homes, most of which were located in the center of the state’s well-known wine country. While wildfires are nothing new to California and its residents, this season’s fires are unique. The “Camp Fire” has been rated “the deadliest wildfire in recorded state history,” killing at least 48 people.

Reports say that more than 20,000 people, in Sonoma County alone, have left their homes. According to reports, more than 400 people are still missing.

While many of the Sonoma residents precautiously reacted to the prevailing situation and left their homes, there are a few who refuse to leave their homes and possessions. Local authorities issued a warning saying that anyone who refuses to leave their home will be left to fend for themselves.

How did the fires break out?

No one is truly certain what may have caused all the fires to break out in the first place. Naming causes would just be speculations at this point.

So far, the fires have been fatal to over 50 people, leaving almost over 9,000 structures destroyed and possibly more than 230,000 acres burned, so far.

“Initial damage assessments for unincorporated Sonoma County are in: 3,819 destroyed parcels, $2.019 billion,” read a tweet from State Senator Mike McGuire this past Sunday evening. The total damage estimate according to media sources may be well above $3 billion.

“When Santa Rosa is combined, damage estimates top $3 billion. Unfortunately, estimates are expected to grow this week,” the tweet ends.

Where are the fires?

There are three major wildfires tormenting California at the moment.

In Santa Rosa Valley, firefighters have been battling the Hill Fire, the smallest of the three fires, ever since it broke out Thursday afternoon last week. The fire has burned more than 4,500 acres, and has been 90 percent contained, according to officials.

Then further north, the so-called “Camp Fire” is burning away in Northern California. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate the area. The town of Paradise has been almost totally destroyed.

And then there is the Woolsey Fire, which is burning in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Last Friday morning, the fire jumped Highway 101, which is located near the city of Calabasas.

The 2013 Rim Fire east of Sonora, California, as large as it was, burned a surprisingly small number of structures — 11 homes, 3 commercial buildings, and 98 outbuildings. (Image: U.S. Department of Agriculture [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The 2013 Rim Fire east of Sonora, California, as large as it was, burned a surprisingly small number of structures — 11 homes, 3 commercial buildings, and 98 outbuildings. (Image: U.S. Department of Agriculture [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Strong winds are challenging efforts to extinguish the fires. Fortunately, fire teams have been dispatched in all areas of the fires.

Almost 9,000 firefighters were taking on the California wildfires on Tuesday. Power saws are being utilized by search teams as well as cadaver dogs, in the hope of locating victims of the “Camp Fire” in Northern California.

As of Tuesday, according to estimates by officials, the Woolsey fire had burned over 90,000 acres.

“We are working all day and all night to increase and reinforce that containment,”  the Los Angeles County fire chief, Daryl Osby, was quoted saying.

"Santa Ana winds in California expands fires and spreads smoke over hundreds of miles, as in this October 2007 satellite image shows."(Image: Nasa [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Santa Ana winds in California expand the fires and spread smoke over hundreds of miles, as this October 2007 satellite image shows. (Image: Nasa [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

U.S. president Donald Trump said on Monday that an “expedited” major disaster declaration for California and its “deadly wildfires burning at both ends of the state” had been approved by him. In a tweet, Trump underlined the reason for his quick response: “Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on (…).”

According to estimates, at least 38 firefighters battling the blazing flames have lost their homes, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters state service representative, Tim Aboudara.

Many firefighters felt powerless against the initial raging flames when the fire neared even their own homes.

The Guardian reports that, according to Aboudara, many firefighters are devastated after being unable to stop the rapid spread of the fire before it overtook the town of Paradise.

Expressing the impression after the overwhelming experience of helplessness, Aboudara also said: “Our job is to put the fire out and we couldn’t stop that. There was nothing we could do.”

What you can do before and after the fires

Once the haze lifts and the sunlight hits the first fire wreckages, and darkly tanned landscapes fill the site of many exhausted but relieved California residents, most people who lost their homes to the fires will ask themselves how this happened and how it can be avoided.

A California government communication suggests that in general, before any fire, you should create a defensible space that separates your home from the flammable vegetation and materials. During a wildfire, you are advised to turn on a battery-operated radio so that you can receive the latest emergency information.

Then, after the fire, make sure to contact 911 should any remaining danger still be perceived, and lastly, contact local experts and consult them on the best way to restore and replant your land. You should also make sure that the land is replanted with fire-safe landscaping.

Wildfires are very expensive

Aside from his quick response to the situation, Trump also criticized California’s forest management.

In a recent tweet, President Trump said that the massive fires in California are both deadly and costly, and that the key issue is the apparently poor forest management.

While some regard Trump’s comment as a threat to California, others scrutinized the president’s comment about California’s forest management. Some believe the timing of such a critical statement toward California and how it manages its forests could have been chosen better. It came during a time that California and many of its residents are still dealing with the fires.

While it is natural to have different opinions on some issues, according to a National Geographic article, the biggest cause of California’s wildfires is not the trees, but the humans.

Taking this into consideration, the real key point in how to prevent or at least minimize the collateral damage of future California wildfires, both for residents and local official branches, by upgrading existing properties and infrastructure, making them more fireproof.

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