The Camp, Woolsey and Hill fires have killed at least 31 and burned through 111,000 acres – what happens next?
Both ends of California are aflame, with a trio of disastrous wildfires resulting in at least 31 deaths and thousands of lost homes and businesses.
California wildfires: 31 dead and 150,000 displaced as blazes scorch state
In the northern reaches of the state, a conflagration called the Camp fire is now the most destructive and joint most deadly in California’s history, having burned through 111,000 acres, at one point growing so quickly it was eating up a football field-size piece of land every second.
The fire has wiped out virtually all of Paradise, a town of about 26,000 people around 170 miles north-east of San Francisco. Just a quarter of the fire’s perimeter is contained, which is when it cannot spread further due to a barrier such as a river or a trench dug by firefighters.
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Further south, the Woolsey fire has menaced the Los Angeles area, burning 83,000 acres. Pushed coastwards by the Santa Ana winds, which blow from the north-east, the fire has caused the evacuation of wealthy beach locale Malibu. A mere 20% of the fire is contained. The smaller Hill fire, burning slightly north of the Woolsey fire, has chewed through 4,500 acres.
Who has been affected?
The remains of 29 people have been found in the wake of the Camp fire, making it the most deadly California fire in 85 years. Some were found inside their cars, having been caught while attempting to escape the flames.
Two people have died in the Woolsey fire, bringing the total death toll to 31. This figure is likely to climb, with more than 200 people missing. A total of 250,000 Californians have been forced to flee their homes; the Camp fire alone has destroyed nearly 7,000 buildings.
A broad spectrum of people have been displaced, from vulnerable, low-income families in Paradise to Hollywood celebrities.
Actor Gerard Butler tweeted a picture of himself in front of his charred home, praising the “courage, spirit and sacrifice” of firefighters. The singer Miley Cyrus reported that she lost her home but escaped with her fiance, actor Liam Hemsworth, and their pets. Neil Young also lost his home. Lady Gaga was evacuated.
An overstretched army of 8,000 firefighters have been battling the flames, their challenge heightened by dry, gusty conditions expected to continue this week.
What has Donald Trump had to say?
Donald Trump via Twitter, said there was “no reason for these massive deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
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The president raised similar criticisms in August when a wildfire threatened the California city of Redding, blaming “bad environmental laws” that allow rivers to “be diverted into the Pacific ocean” rather than fight fires.
Is Trump right?
Trump has echoed, in his idiosyncratic way, a familiar Republican charge: that environmental regulations hamper proper management of forests, allowing flammable vegetation to build up and act as fuel for fires.
Several ecologists have pointed out that “management” is typically code for logging by industry, whereby large stands of trees that would typically survive a wildfire are removed, leaving behind debris that is often more effective at spreading flames. Logging, therefore, can make forest fires worse.
Fire is a natural part of the ecology of California, helping forests clear underbrush, regenerate and spread seeds for the next generation of trees.
Ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the frontlines
Brian Rice, firefighters representative, on Trump
Human factors have changed the equation, however – California’s population is nearing 40 million, adding a more than 300,000 people a year since 2010, with many moving into and developing scenic forest areas that often burn. Experts have said this has increased the risk of deadly encounters with fire.
Trump also appears to overlooked the fact that 60% of the state’s forests are under federal management. The Camp fire started on or near federal land before moving on to private property. Separately, there is no evidence California lacks water to fight fires.
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