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The Aftermath of the California Wildfires

This year has produced some of the most destructive fires in California history. And it's only going to get worse.

The California wildfires for the 2018 season have been dubbed the most destructive in the history of California. A total of 7,579 fires have burned 1,667,855 acres of land, a new record according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center. Fiscally, these fires have caused $2.975 billion in damages.

Some of the most destructive fires ever recorded have happened this season, like the Mendocino Complex Fire, burning more than 459,000 acres to become the largest complex fire in the state’s history. A complex fire is two or more individual incidents located in the same general area which are assigned to a single incident commander or unified command, according to the National Park Service’s Fire Terminology glossary.

Camp Fire in Northern California, which started on November 8th, has claimed 83 lives, making it the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history. 536 people are still missing; this number is down from past weeks. The fire decimated whole towns, like Paradise, California. The fire destroyed homes, buildings, cars, parks, basically everything in sight; 18,000 structures were burned to the ground. As of November 21st, the fire was 80% contained.

The Woolsey Fire in Southern California also started on November 8th and was highly publicized due to the region it engulfed. The fire destroyed buildings, houses (including those of celebrities), and highways in the Los Angeles area; 1,500 structures destroyed and 341 damaged. This fire is 98% contained as of November 20th. In both fire cases, the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire, mandatory evacuations took place.

california wildfires
The aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise, CA. Via

How do these fires start? Why are they so bad?

Wildfires can start in a number of ways, as long as there’s a spark. From there, the fire needs oxygen, heat, and fuel to expand. Because California has the oxygen in the form of wind, heat in the form of summer weather, and fuel in the form of trees and other plants, the fires explode in size and spread rapidly.

Scientists have said that increased amounts of natural fuel (dead trees, grasses) and atmospheric conditions (global warming) have contributed to California’s fire susceptibility. Global warming has led to higher temperatures and less rain, which means there’s more dryness in the environment. Drier grasses and shrubs are the perfect fodder for a fire, and with California’s winds, it’s the perfect recipe for longer and stronger fires.

What’s the impact on the earth?

Global warming has an impact on the climate of an area, as can be seen with California. The more hot and dry California gets, the more prone it is to serious fires, meaning serious charring of the landscape. While a much needed rain is coming, there is a serious risk of mudslides, causing even more destruction. The smoke in the air is also spreading to other areas of California, creating a state of emergency for air quality.

How to get the fires under control?

Wildfire suppression is how the firefighters contain a fire. The first step in doing this is setting up a control line, which is a man-made or natural boundary to control how and where the fire spreads. To make control lines stronger, the brush will actually be burned, called a burnout, in order to reinforce the control line. A backburn is similar to a burnout, but it’s when firefighters set a controlled blaze toward the fire in order to cut off the larger fire’s fuel. Firefighters will use water, dirt, explosives, or some other flame retardant to control the fire from the front or the sides, while others will check the back end of the fire to make sure all embers remain (cold trailing). If there’s a body of water nearby, there will be an aerial attack, where buckets of water are dumped on the blaze. The water is usually mixed with a flame retardant to be more effective.

california wildfires

After the fire has been contained, firefighters go back and do a mop up in order to make sure any embers or spot fires left over are extinguished. This also involves moving fuels by burn out or just physically moving them.

How can you help?

There are several organizations you can donate to. The California Fire Foundation and the United Way (Northern California and Greater Los Angeles) are creating relief funds to help the survivors. You can also volunteer and donate blood in order to help.

Celebrities are even helping by donating goods to local fire stations, as well as donating money to the firefighters who fought to control the fire. Kim Kardashian offered a big donation to one such firefighter.


Sierra is a junior studying international business and Spanish at Saint...