The Camp Fire, which caused incredible destruction throughout November, is now 100% contained, and the number of missing persons has dropped to 25. The fire, now the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history, torched 153,336 square acres, burned the town of Paradise to the ground, killed at least 85 people, and turned 13,000 homes into ash. The fire started November 8, and although the cause is not known, it is highly suspected that sparking caused by faulty PG&E lines started the fire. To that end, 35 families from Paradise have taken out a lawsuit against PG&E.
Hazardous smoke created by the Camp Fire drifted south and blanketed the Bay Area for multiple weeks, causing havoc to everyday lives. School was often canceled, and several universities were attacked for continuing classes even when the smoke was thick enough to set off fire alarms in the schools. Residents were told to buy N-95 respirator masks, which were higher tech and would block 95% of particulates in the smoke, as well as to stay inside as much as possible. Many people also left the Bay Area to escape the smoke, and sports events were repeatedly rescheduled to avoid the smoke.
The fire had been raging and out of control for two weeks when a major storm hit California on November 21, dropping seven inches over three days. The rain dampened the fire quickly, allowing the more than 1,000 firefighters to get a leg up in containing the fire. The rain avoided setting off mudslides on the charred earth.
Volunteers continue to sift through the rubble to look for remains. While the number of missing persons has been greatly reduced, from 1,200 missing people two weeks ago, there are still those uncounted for. In addition, finding the remains of those known to be dead can provide closure to families.
According to WIRED magazine, one of the main reasons Paradise burned so quickly is that maintenance on and around the house was lacking, because the majority of the residents were retirees. After the fire, when people went to the houses, they had completely burned down, but the trees around the homes were untouched. The theory is that because people had not cleared dry leaves and other debris from their houses, they were more vulnerable to fire. When the fire “spat” sparks ahead of it, the hot embers landed on the roofs: with so much dry tinder flames grew quickly, setting the wooden frames of houses on fire and incinerating them. WIRED suggested two solutions – replacing the wooden shingles with composite shingles, and being meticulous in clearing the area around your house and clearing your roof.
Despite the Camp Fire being contained, California faces an uncertain future. Wildfires have raged across the state for the past couple of years, causing unprecedented damage and deaths. Firefighters have been stretched thin by the constant work, and the state has had to dip into “rainy day” funds as the budget for firefighting has been run out. The constant droughts have created more problems, since the vegetation becomes dried out yearly, turning forests into a tinderbox. Rising air temperatures also make it easier for fire to spontaneously start, even if the ground and vegetation is fairly moist. Fighting with the national government will make it harder to obtain federal aid in the future, and if wildfires ever burn agricultural areas and Silicon Valley, California’s economy will drop drastically. The only option is looking forward and being prepared for wildfires to come.
by Ellie Bourret