Camp and Woolsey Fires Decimate Towns on Both Ends of the State
CW: Death, gun violence
The deadliest wildfires in recent history have raged through both ends of California in the past week. The Camp Fire, which decimated the town of Paradise in northern California, was 135,000 acres large and 35 percent contained as of Wednesday, November 14, according to Cal Fire. To the south, the Woolsey Fire east of Los Angeles was at just under 100,000 acres and 47 percent contained.
The Camp Fire is the deadliest wildfire in California history, with 48 confirmed civilian fatalities as of 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, and over 100 people missing. The cause of the fire is still unclear. Paradise, a town of 27,000 close to Chico, California, has been the most affected, especially since many of its residents are senior citizens. Thousands of Paradise residents’ homes have been destroyed in the blaze.
In southern California, the Woolsey Fire, and to a lesser extent the Hill Fire, have spread through Los Angeles and Ventura counties along the coastline. The towns of Malibu and West Hills have been severely affected by the fire, with three fatalities and nearly 500 homes destroyed as of this past Wednesday.
Tatiana Pellow, a student at Pepperdine University in Malibu, experienced the devastating impacts of the Woolsey Fire first-hand, although she was luckily not in Malibu during the fire itself. “Our entire campus was surrounded by flames and partially burnt,” she said. “My whole school was sheltered in a gym… [the students] couldn’t leave campus and there was fire all around them.” Although Pellow’s dorm did not burn down, some of her friends’ apartments did. “My concerns are … about both students and faculty at my school that have lost their homes and how they will move forward,” she said.
Charlotte Andersen, a Reed student from Moorpark, California, just north of the Woolsey Fire perimeter, said that her family didn’t need to evacuate because of the wind direction but were still heavily affected by the fire. “My parents could see flames from our backyard,” Andersen said. “Personally, it was really hard, especially right after the [Thousand Oaks] shooting, which also occurred in my community.” Andersen expressed hope that they can rebuild, but said that this fire seemed worse than those that have occurred in years past. “One day I was trying to figure out if all my friends and family at home were still alive,” she said. “The next day, their houses were burning down.”
The smoke from the wildfires has also indirectly impacted many people across the state. In Davis, California, a college town just east of Sacramento, the university cancelled classes Tuesday through Thursday of this past week to limit student exposure to the smoke. “This [smoke] condition is the worst that I can remember in 20 years for length and severity,” UC Davis Professor Enoch Baldwin said. “We have had a day or two of bad smoke [before] but never this many days or this thick.”
Are wildfires in California really getting worse? Perhaps, and it is almost certainly due to climate change. In an interview for the Atlantic, Columbia Professor of Biology and the Environment Park Williams said that there is strong evidence to support “that a warming climate strongly promotes increases in forest fire activity in western North America.” President Donald Trump, however, claims that the wildfires are due to “gross mismanagement of the forests,” and threatened to revoke federal aid to the state. This response has angered many firefighters, who have been risking their lives to battle the flames this past week.
There has not been a month without a wildfire in California since 2012. Pellow says she hopes the government will be looking to the environment to prevent fires like this from becoming commonplace. “I think a lot of people throughout California have been affected by fires this year,” she said. “I hope the severity will be a wake up call for how we are treating our environment.”