On November 8, 2018, California burst into flames as heinous wildland fires ignited at both ends of the state. As of Saturday, November 24, the deadliest most destructive wildfire in California history was reported to be 100% contained. The Campfire burned through Butte County in Northern California devouring thousands of structures and claiming as many as 85 lives according the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. More specifically, it destroyed 13,972 residences, 528 commercial buildings, scorched 153,336 acres, and there are still at least 296 people unaccounted for. Southern California’s Woolsey Fire, which started the same day as Northern California’s Camp Fire, destroyed 1,500 structures, killed three people, and burned 96,949 acres as it blew through the Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The two fires collectively destroyed a grand total of nearly 400 square miles.
Search and rescue teams have found and identified 54 people and continued to comb through the remains, especially in the town of paradise which was almost completely destroyed by the blaze. Thanks to 360-degree, panoramic drone images of the damage, officials hope to create maps to help search and recovery teams operate efficiently and effectively.
Northern California experienced much-needed heavy rains over the weekend, although this may pose new threats to the affected area such as flash floods and mudslides. Since the rains, the National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch.
As a result of the fires, the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, has declared a public health emergency in the state of California. This is due in part to the wildfires causing a forced evacuation of at least two hospitals and eight other health facilities. In addition, the smoke from the wild flames enveloped the Golden State and choked the air in major cities. On November 16th, Berkeley Earth ranked San Francisco, Stockton, and Sacramento as the world’s three most polluted cities in the world.
Trump visited California to witness the damage with his own eyes and pledged federal assistance to California following the visit. This announcement came just days after he threated to withhold funds due to what he described as “gross mismanagement of forests”. The President’s insensitive response to the devastation drew an angry reaction from local residents, opposition politicians, and environmental scientists. Following the outrage, the President reiterated his original statement and said,
“With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get smart!”
In another tweet, since deleted, he wrote:
“California wildfires are being magnified and made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”
In these tweets, Trump is referring to the process by which woodlands are tended, harvested, and regenerated by local environmental agencies. Unfortunately, Trump is incorrect in where he chose to place blame. Emergency service personal stated that the wildfires are not due to poor management but instead parched vegetation, high winds, low humidity, and geography. California recently suffered a five-year drought causing dry conditions ideal for wildfires. The increasing prevalence of the fires in California in recent decades serve as a more convincing argument for global warming. In addition, 60% of California forests are under federal management, therefore it is the federal government responsible for the neglect.
A solution to the prevalence of California Wildfires often comes down to money, which there is a limited amount of. After last year, the state assembly passed several bills to help tend to fire needs, including providing grant money to localities and increasing controlled burns on wildlands. The legislature at that time was thinking big, but again, getting money moving can be a massive beauracratic ordeal. Nevertheless, the fire emergency is now and continued policy change and fire prevention efforts must continue in order to tame the California wildfires and wildifes.