California facing historic wildfires Gov. Jerry Brown announces state of emergency as chaotic fires larger than San Francisco ignite Northern California
“California is burning.” These stark words summarize the feelings of any who see the horrifying pictures of destroyed homes and forests engulfed in flames. Over the weekend, three separate fires broke out in Butte, Napa, Sonoma and Lake Counties, as well as Sierra National Forest. These blazes are some of the worse in California history.
California has entered the fourth year of a historic drought. The lack of rainfall has left large swaths of Northern California dry enough to start fires. This year’s fire season has been particularly chaotic.
Daniel Berlant, Cal-Fire’s chief information officer, reported they have responded to over 16,000 separate instances this season. In addition to a greater number of fires, the flames have become larger and harder to control. Larger and more frequent fires put a strain on fire departments’ ability to respond adequately to contain them.
This all came to a head when three separate fires grew out of control on Friday, Sept. 11. The Butte, Valley and Sierra fires have raged across hundreds of acres of dry forest and brush. The Sierra fire is already larger than the entire area of San Francisco, at 140,000 acres. As of Monday, Sept. 14, the Valley fire has burned 62,000 acres, and the Butte fire has destroyed over 71,000 acres.
In an attempt to control the fires, firefighters have arrived from across Northern California. Even firefighters from the Los Angeles Fire Department have been called up to aid local effort. Over 7,000 fire officials are working to contain the fires.
Despite the influx of firefighters, no fire is majorly contained so far. The Sierra fire was announced to be 40 percent contained on Sept. 14. The Butte fire is similarly contained at 35 percent. Unfortunately, the Valley fire has been particularly hard to control, at only 10 percent containment.
The effect of the fires has been drastic. The LA Times report that the Valley and Butte fires have displaced 23,000 people, destroyed over 700 homes and injured four fire officials. There has been one confirmed death from the fires.
The Butte fire has caused the evacuation of 6,000 homes. There are evacuation orders in Lake, Sonoma and Lake Counties. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.
It does not help that natural factors have only exacerbated the fires. No major wind events have occurred to aid the officials in battling the blazes. The lack of rainfall has made natural water resources for firefighters to use overwhelmingly limited.
As Northern California is engulfed in flames, officials warn that Southern California is no safer. In a few months, the seasonal Santa Ana winds are set to blow across Southern California. The Santa Ana winds are hot and dry winds that blow up from Arizona and Nevada. These winds have contributed to fires in the southern part of the state in the past, and officials warn that these winds could ignite fires in Southern California. One shudders at the thought of raging fires across both ends of the state.
Clearly nature has the capability to increase the destruction the fires bring, but there is also a glimmer of hope that nature will be the one to stop the fires as well. Climatologists are reporting that this year’s El Niño rains could be some of the largest on record. A historic amount of rainfall is exactly what the state needs to put out historic wildfires and end this historic drought.
Unfortunately, El Niño may not be the godsend Californians hope it to be. Scientists are worried the large amounts of moisture the pressure front is carrying may lead to El Niño dumping all of its rain in the Pacific rather than the state itself.
The existence of the Blob, an area of abnormally warm water travelling south through ocean currents, may prevent El Niño from hitting the state. Regardless of whether the rains make it to California, our rainy season does not traditionally begin until January.
Through the wildfires’ destruction, people still have reason to hope. Ann Mazzaferro ‘10, a Pacific alumna who currently resides
in Calaveras County, reports that people have been doing whatever they can to help those in need. “…We’re asking each other, ‘How are you? Are you safe? What do you need?’
Donations have been coming in from all over the state, everything from water, food, clothing and necessities to handmade cards to thank firefighters. People are throwing open their doors to give people a place to stay and working endless hours in kitchens to feed people. We have entire units of volunteers driving throughout the county with animal trailers to rescue and evacuate livestock, horses and pets.
“There really is no gift too small — I know people who work as face-painters and henna artists who are going to evacuation shelters to paint kids’ faces and bring them a smile. …People here are tough, honest, loving and generous. They will survive this, and we’ll all be stronger for it.” No words can describe the bravery and hard work the firefighters have displayed in their battles against the wildfires.
Here in Stockton, the effects of the fires have been deeply felt. Many members of the community know people who live near the fires or have been evacuated.
Physically, we can see the effects as well. Plumes of smoke engulfed the sky this weekend. Late Friday night, ash could be seen drifting to the ground. “This kind of feels like the apocalypse is about to happen,” Jason Wong ‘17.
A four-year drought, fires the size of major metropolitan cities, ash falling like snow, thousands of people displaced: It all does kind of feel like an apocalypse.
Here’s hoping the plumes of smoke will turn into water-filled clouds and the ashes into raindrops, and that the sun will soon rise over a California that has endured the natural disasters we currently face.
If you are interested in donating to those affected by the fires, please contact the M.E.Ch.A de Pacific Chair Dora Barrera at (707) 254-5845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.