Wildfires ravage northern California
Firefighters in Northern California have finally started to tame some of the wildfires that have been spreading around the Golden State since Sunday, Oct. 8. They are considered the worst fires California has seen in the past 80 years. 15 major wildfires are still in full swing, spread over 217,000 acres and destroying infrastructure. However, firefighters believe that falling temperatures and rain will help with fighting the flames.
Another wildfire, in Orange County, near Los Angeles, destroyed 3,000 hectares of land between Monday, Oct. 9, and Wednesday, Oct. 11, when firefighters were able to get the fire mostly contained (OC Register, “Canyon Fire 2 at 60 percent containment; 9,217-acre blaze destroys 23 structures, damages 36,” 10.11.2017). Wednesday evening also brought colder and more humid weather and as a result the authorities withdrew the evacuation orders.
The situation in Northern California is much more serious, with Governor Jerry Brown declaring a state of emergency in Sonoma, Napa and Yuba counties. The wine-growing Sonoma region has been affected the worst and the authorities have had to evacuate around 3,000 people. According to official numbers, the number of fatalities in California has risen to 41 (Los Angeles Times, “Death toll in wine country fires rises to 41 as driver of water truck dies in rollover accident,” 10.16.2017). The governor has called the fires one of the largest tragedies in the history of the United States and, when visiting the region, he urged people to take the situation seriously and follow the instructions given by the firefighters (San Francisco CBS, “Gov. Brown, Sens. Feinstein, Harris Vow To Find More Funds For Wildfire Relief,” 10.14.2017). There are still 10,000 firefighters out trying to fight the remaining 15 fires. According to official data, about 5,700 houses and other
buildings have been destroyed by fires and more than hundred people are still missing (The New York Times, “Northern California Fires Have Destroyed at Least 5,700 Buildings,” 10.14.2017).
The fires have been extremely difficult to mitigate due to the strong wind, high temperatures and dry air. Questions of what caused the fires and whether officials did enough to alert the residents when the flames started approaching populated areas have started surfacing. Many people had to flee in panic, and the BBC reports that the firefighters have told them that they were astonished by the speed with which the fire was spreading. It was the individual local communities that were responsible for informing the public. However, local communities in Sonoma, the region that was hit hardest by the flames, say that they did not want to incite widespread panic and blocked roads. Investigators have also started looking into the reasons behind the start of the fire, some pointing to the possibility of the fires being started by the crashed electrical installation.
—Marusa Rus, Guest Reporter