Drought and intense heat lead to a dangerous fire season in California

Crews battle the Butte Fire Source: abc7news.com/
Crews battle the Butte Fire
Source: abc7news.com/

The west coast is burning, and not in a #FeelTheBern political sense. Years of drought and high summer temperatures have led to dangerous fire conditions, and California is not the only state to take the hit.

Hundreds of thousands of acres in Oregon and Washington are also ablaze; causes for these fires range from careless campers and arsonists to lightning strikes. Montana was also having a dangerous fire season until summer rain and snow storms helped put out the blaze. When the land is as dry as it is now, after four years of drought in California, one can never be too careful.

The National Guard was brought in to drop water over the fires, and hand crews who travelledfrom the east coast to help out fought on the ground, clearing brush and making fire breaks.

In August there were 16 large fires being fought in California simultaneously, but other states were less equipped to deal with an especially active fire season. In the midst of California’s peak fire season, Cal Fire sent engines to Washington to aid the state in their fight against the flames.

Washington also received assistance from other countries when their incident commanders were aided by their international counterparts, fire managers, from Australia and New Zealand.

Recently, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior toured the fires in Washington State where firefighters were only recently given enough resources to increase containment.

In Santa Cruz the persistent layer of smoke in the skies could be seen clearly from high elevation spots like Eagle Rock throughout the summer, and college students returning to school in the Northwest were met with health warnings due to the smoke.

“Comparatively, it [California’s fire season] is on the upper end of serious because we’ve had four years of drought and inconsistent winters [ . . . ] fuel moistures are at record lows, and we haven’t even seen the north winds yet, which is what happens in September and October. California’s fire season is September and October, we’re not even there yet.” said Central Fire Chief Jeff Maxwell.

Maxwell also explained that some of the fires stopped by California fire fighters spread along the west coast while they were working on containing them.  He said, “We had one strike team that was sent to five different fires. They started in Central California and ended up on the Oregon border.”

Strike teams are sent as disaster relief, often to wildfires, and are made up of five engines from different agencies. Felton, Zayante, and Scotts Valley fire departments have all sent strike teams to California’s wildfires this summer as well as the Aptos, Santa Cruz, and Central Fire departments.

“It’s like going camping with 21 people and all you get to do is manual labor,” according to Maxwell, but, “you have the opportunity to provide service to communities and neighborhoods under assault by fires.”

Because of the high fire danger, many parks have asked that visitors do not light campfires, and agencies like Cal Fire are urging the public to be extra cautious.

Simple measures like ensuring campfires are completely put out, clearing brush near structures and avoiding the use of heavy equipment in dry grass can help to protect communities from disaster.

 

-Katie Maxwell

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