On November 8, 2018, the Woolsey Fire and the Camp Fire were called in and reported in Simi Valley and Butte County, respectively. By the time the fires were contained, more than two weeks later, the flames had claimed dozens. The Camp Fire was dubbed the deadliest fire in California’s history.
Both fires had unknown causes. However, California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Company submitted written responses to Judge William Alsup, a federal judge, by December 31, which explained any potential role or unsafe operation of company power lines that may have caused either fire (CNN). The company was already on probation and had received a multi-billion dollar fine. They also had to make multi-billion dollar improvements in order to amend an incident just years before. Consequently, PG&E does not have a great reputation. Concurrently, officials are searching for other possible sources.
While the hunt for the cause of the fires continues, state appointees are also searching for the hundreds of missing people. The Camp Fire destroyed a record 153,336 acres and over 19,000 buildings. 993 plus people are still recorded as missing (USA Today). The fire caused more property destruction than the next seven worst national fires combined. While the Camp Fire was the most devastating, the Woolsey Fire burned through 96,949 acres and two smaller fires — the Hill Fire and the Branscombe Fire — burned through 9,031 acres in total (San Francisco Chronicle).
President Trump has guaranteed there will be no federal budget cuts for the clean-up and continued prevention of California wildfires (CBS News). While this was reassuring, Governor Jerry Brown has also expressed that the damage from the wildfires will cost tens of billions of dollars (CBS News). Nevertheless, Trump made it his goal to give unwavering support, as Brown related to a widespread audience on Face the Nation. On November 17, Trump went to survey the damage across the state firsthand.
As the firefighters worked to contain the fires, residents of surrounding areas of the fire, particularly San Francisco and Malibu, began purchasing face masks to prevent breathing in too much of the polluted air. Te fires posed a major threat while raging violently, but as they are suppressed, they pose a new threat: causing poor air quality. In fact, the air quality of areas in California, especially those subjected to the wildfires, has been ranked first on the list of dirtiest in the world, higher than cities in India and China, normally ranked at the top. (New York Times)
In San Francisco, schools were shut down because the air quality was so dangerous and caused a surge in respiratory hospitalizations. At a preparatory high school school similar to Nobles called Branson, just north of San Francisco, classes were cancelled for an entire week. High risk of air poisoning was so prevalent, and residents and practitioners were concerned that the smoke and particles would erode individual immune systems. Moreover, if an individual’s reaction to the air was especially adverse, they could contract severe asthma and overreactions in lung behavior for the rest of their life (New York Times).
Firefighters on duty during the fires had a thankless task. Many worked for 32 days straight with a two day break, just to work another consecutive 30 days (NPR). Even more discouraging, California firefighters overtime wages have increased greatly in the past five years, affirming the obvious: California wildfires have swelled in commonality and longevity. The firefighting department is understaffed, according to Rick Swan, IAFF director of Wildland Fire Fighting Safety and Response, and unless the firefighting budget increases, he believes it will be difficult to get more employees (NPR). As wildfires become a more pressing issue, the question of staff and ability to contain fires becomes equally urgent.
By Hannah Lawry, Staff Writer, December 2018