California is officially in the midst of a major disaster with widespread wildfires currently raging across the nation’s most populous state. The three most destructive fires are the Camp Fire in the North, and Southern California’s Woolsey and Hill Fires. Meanwhile, smaller fires, called Eden, Mountaineer, and Alder, threaten parts of the Eastern Sierras.
Having been ignited nearly a week ago, firefighters are still struggling to contain them and to identify an exact cause of their genesis. In both Northern and Southern California, utility companies PG&E and SoCal Edison are being investigated for their potential roles in starting the massive flames.
Less than half an hour before the Camp Fire was first reported outside of Pulga, PG&E reported a transmission line outage near the fire’s origins. And in Southern California, firefighting officials placed their estimate for the Woolsey Fire’s beginning at the same place SoCal Edison reported a “circuit relayed out of a substation” two minutes before the blaze ignited.
While the rumors and evidence seem convincing, no official accusations have been brought forth against PG&E or SoCal Edison.
The Camp Fire
The Camp Fire, near the city of Chico, is now the deadliest and most destructive fire in state history. It takes the second title from the Tubbs Fire, which occurred only last year in Santa Rosa, about 100 miles from the current disaster.
The town of Paradise, California, which was home to a population of about 26,000, has been wiped off the map. As of Tuesday morning, approximately 118,000 acres had been scorched. A few days ago, firefighters guessed that, at its peak, the fire grew at the equivalent of one football field per second. 7,000 structures have been demolished, which includes about 6,500 single-family homes. The flames have forced more than 52,000 to evacuate including around 1,500 who are currently in shelters.
Sadly, the Camp Fire officially became the deadliest fire to strike California on Monday night when 13 sets of human remains were found which brought the death toll to 42. Well over 100 people statewide remain unaccounted for.
The Woolsey Fire
The Woolsey Fire has quickly garnered a lot of media attention because Woolsey is affecting many people in the Los Angeles area. High profile towns, like Malibu, have seen widespread evacuations, and flames are extending as far as the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Two additional deaths have resulted from the Woolsey Fire, bringing the death toll across California to a shocking 44 people. 435 structures have already been burnt down while 57,000 other buildings are threatened by the fire’s path. Of the approximate 300,000 Californians that have been evacuated due to the fires, about 170,000 are from Los Angeles County where the Woolsey Fire continues its destruction.
Much of Malibu, part of the affected region, is a famously affluent region of Los Angeles. The destruction has touched the lives of celebrities like Gerard Butler, Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus, and Neil Young, as each has lost their homes in the fire. The acting mayor of Malibu is also in the hospital after trying to save his home.
Both the Camp and Woolsey fires are about 30% contained as of Tuesday morning. Firefighters are worried Santa Ana winds (seasonal wind trends that are common to Southern California) could hit the Woolsey Fire with 60 to 70 mile per hour gusts which could spread the flames.
Some good news has surfaced as firefighters have made a great effort to contain the Hill Fire, which is now 85% extinguished after having burned about 4,550 acres. The firefighters battling the inferno are being praised as heroes for their continued determination to continue fighting in the face of the destruction. Some 55 firefighters in Northern California have lost their homes in the Camp Fire and yet are still reporting for duty. Meanwhile, about 3,500 firefighters, some of which have been deployed from outside of California, are working to stop the Woolsey blaze.
Conclusion and How to Help
While the two largest fires currently raging could have been caused by human neglect in utility companies, regardless of the source, wildfires in California have become a consistent issue. Already in 2018 California has seen about 1.68 million acres of land burned causing almost three billion dollars in damage.
Many scientists point to environmental changes and global warming as the number one contributing factor to the rise in wildfires. A decrease in rains and warmer temperatures have left some 129 million trees dead across California alone, filling the state with literal fuel for fires. While some people are quick to bring up that wildfires are part of the natural ecosystem of California, the number of recent wildfires have increased exponentially beyond that figure. Additionally, 84% of recent fires have begun as a result of human error or negligence.
For the time being, anyone can help with disaster relief for the victims of the California fires. Text REDCROSS to make a donation or call 1-800-RED-CROSS to send funds to Red Cross’s efforts. Additionally, Red Cross will be holding blood drives across the state for those willing to donate. Similarly, Airbnb’s Open Homes has seen hosts offering accommodation to victims, for free, for the remainder of the month. Already over 1,200 hosts in LA, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Diego counties have committed their homes to relief workers and displaced neighbors. Other major companies have also made sizable contributions including United Airlines, which has donated over $900,000 for wildfire relief funds in 2018 alone.