Wildfires continue to intensify across the state of California, putting significant pressure on emergency services.
Keeping the fires under control is both difficult and expensive due to the rate at which they can spread, at times fuelled by winds over 74 mph. Over 6000 fires have been recorded so far this year, covering over 250,000 acres across the state.
However, after last year, the worst on record for California, the state was more prepared and the number of injuries and the total area burned has been significantly reduced.
The Kincade fire is the largest recorded so far and one of the most recent to be contained. It burned 77,000 acres over two weeks in Sonoma County near San Francisco, destroying 374 structures. Even fires that are brought under control much more quickly, like the Easy fire, can have significant impacts. Thousands of residents near the site were forced to evacuate their homes while over 700 firefighters worked to prevent the blaze from spreading.
Meanwhile an ‘extreme red flag’ warning was given for the entire city of Los Angeles due to the smoke being carried by the fast winds. Some residents also had their power supply cut off due to the risk of electrical cables in rural areas starting further fires, a suspected source of the previously mentioned Kincade fire. Those fighting the flames face some of the toughest working conditions of any emergency services workers, sometimes enduring shifts of up to 60 hours.
They often work in areas with extremely poor air quality, where the fires spread to urban areas and can create toxic chemicals, the health impacts of which are not yet known. Matt Alba, who led a team of firefighters at last year’s Camp fire said, “There was this awful taste to it. We just knew it was wrong”. While the full extent of the health impacts resulting from this are unknown, a study of 30,000 firefighters by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found a 14% increase in cancer deaths for those fighting fires in urban areas. Unfortunately with the rate of climate change continuing to increase, so does the risk of wildfires not just in California, but in the Amazon, and even in the Arctic circle.
Humans suppressing wildfires can also increase their intensity when they eventually do burn, as doing so allows fuel to build up which would be naturally cleared had the fire continued to spread. While the exact cause of each fire can’t always be determined, it’s clear that they will only become more common as the climate warms.
Speaking on the issue, President Donald Trump has vowed no more federal aid will be given to the state of California.
The President tweeted, “Every year, as the fires rage & California burns, it is the same thing-and then he comes to the Federal Government for [financial] help. No more. Get your act together Governor. You don’t see close to the level of burn in other states… But our teams are working well together in putting these massive, and many, fires out. Great firefighters!”