Imagine if a spark ignited in town today, and Corvallis was reduced to ashes tomorrow. No school on Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday: in fact, no school building to attend. Our world would be turned upside down– instead of stressing over college applications or SATs, we would be focused on relocating and rebuilding our lives. This is a new reality for people just 450 miles south of our hometown. In California, wildfires are demolishing forests and ravishing entire towns, leaving the state in a smokey turmoil. Between the Camp Fire that originated in northern California, and the Woolsey Fire in the south, there have been over 90 confirmed casualties and over 800 missing people. . Even communities not directly affected by the fires have had to evacuate or have been confined to the indoors, due to the hazardous air conditions.
Camp Fire, the deadlier of the two wildfires, started in Plumas National Forest near the town Paradise. While the cause of the fire remains unknown, Camp Fire now stands as the most deadly fire in California history. According to USA Today, the fire has taken more lives than the three next deadliest wildfires combined, and destroyed more structures than the last seven combined. Paradise was left devastated, as were other towns that the fire expanded into.
In southern California, the Woolsey Fire ignited in Ventura County just days after Camp Fire, and spread through the LA District. Cities including Malibu were evacuated, and in total 96,949 acres were burned before the fire was contained, according to the official incident record.
Why were these fires so much deadlier than previous wildfires? It is in part due to climate change. Increased numbers of pollutants in the atmosphere leads to a greater chance of fire, and the smoke released in the fires contributes to air pollution, creating a deadly cycle. Additionally, increased expansion into high-risk fire zones, such as the dry regions in southern California, contribute to higher death rates simply because more people are at risk now than they were in earlier fires.
These fires are causing numerous problems for the state of California. Aside from the number of dead and missing peoples, the fires are detrimental to the environment. Berkeley Earth rates San Francisco, Sacramento, and Stockton the world’s three most polluted cities after the fires. Additionally, the fires have been costly for the state. Between containing the fires and protecting homes, more personnel (including firefighters, paramedics, search and rescue, etc.) are required, as well as equipment. According to a Bloomberg report, the two fires totalled about $19 billion in costs.
California is doing its best to recover from the fires and prevent more in the future. Residents were urged to stay inside as a health precaution, and hundreds of thousands were evacuated during the height of the fires. Though the fires might seem far away to us here in Corvallis, we can still help those affected. The Red Cross is always accepting donations that go towards damage relief (www.redcross.org), as is ALMA, a free app through which you can join the California Wildfire Relief Fund. Going into the holiday season, keep in mind the devastation that California residents have faced, and donate what you can.