Forest Fires Devastate California

California’s two deadliest wildfires in recent history are finally fully contained. The Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire terrorized California beginning on Thursday, November 8. The Woolsey Fire rampaged north of Los Angeles; it caused three deaths, scorched more than 96,949 acres, and destroyed 1,643 structures before it was contained on Thanksgiving Day. The Camp Fire, which blazed north of Sacramento, killed at least 88 people. With 49 people still missing and 18,804 structures destroyed in Paradise, California, the Camp Fire was named the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century.

The exact causes of both fires remain unknown. However, many have speculated that negligence by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) caused the Camp Fire, surmising that high winds sparked a fire from PG&E’s faulty power lines. PG&E has been faulted in the past for poor maintenance which caused a natural-gas explosion in 2010. Firefighters agree that, along with strong winds, the drought-stricken terrain contributed to the rapid spread of these fires.

Many Californians and officials point to climate change as another major contributor. However, on November 10, President Donald Trump disagreed, tweeting, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor.” In response to President Trump’s accusations, Evan Westrub, a spokesman for California Governor Jerry Brown, said, “Our focus is on the Californians impacted by these fires and the first responders and firefighters working around the clock to save lives and property — not on the President’s inane and uninformed tweets.”

After over a week of burning, the Woolsey Fire and the Camp Fire were fully contained on Wednesday, November 21 and Sunday, November 25, respectively. The state’s first winter storm of the season, which brought seven inches of rain, helped firefighters extinguish the fires. However, officials predict that death tolls will continue to rise in the aftermath of the disaster.

Now that the fires are contained, crews are working to rebuild power lines and clear debris. The United States Health and Human Services have declared a public health emergency in the state due to evacuated hospitals and overcrowded temporary hospitals.

Significant strides have been made by organizations like Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security that provides federal assistance in response to natural disasters. FEMA has funded grants for temporary housing and home repairs, given out low-cost loans to cover property loses for the uninsured, and joined officials in California to set up disaster recovery centers for residents to file insurance claims, register for federal aid, and acquire food and water.

Following the fires, attention has turned to future fire management. Mr. Chris Oostenink, instructor in environmental science, said, “The wise thing, from an ecological standpoint, would probably be to let the fires burn, but the number and value of the homes in those areas compels an aggressive and visible fire-fighting response. The resulting feedback loop practically guarantees that the problem will be getting worse before it starts getting better.”