California fires reach complete containment

Design by Nicole Skarlatos

Cal Fire announced on Sunday, Nov. 25, the destructive Camp Fire was 100 percent contained — taking over 150,000 acres and 85 lives in the process, making it the deadliest wildfire in California history. The fire started on Thursday, Nov. 8 and quickly spread to consumed over 100,000 acres by Nov. 10.

Although the acreage size of the fire was only the fifteenth largest in state history according to Cal Fire’s Top 20 Largest California Wildfires, the large amount of buildings and structures burned made it the most destructive in state history. Nearly 14,000 residences, 514 commercial buildings and 4,265 others were destroyed in the burn.

Along with the more than 80 people found dead in the fire, the Camp Fire also left many people unaccounted for. On Saturday night, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office reported that 249 people were still unable to be located. This number is down from over 1,000 only days prior.

Although the Camp Fire is now at full containment, weather obstacles pushed back finding remains and missing people. Two days of showers assisted dousing the blaze and putting out remaining hot spots. However, Cal Fire will survey the area to be sure the fire is completely out.

While heavy rains may have put the majority of the fire out, it also caused finding remains difficult.

University of Nevada, Reno, student Catherine Schofield felt the effects of the Camp Fire first hand after losing her home in Paradise, Calif.

“This fire wasn’t a normal wildfire that happened in or around or area,” Schofield said. “My town is surrounded by a lot of wildlands and those have burned before, but this fire was going to come through the town. From the moment I realized that at 10:30 in the morning, I didn’t leave my computer until 5:00 or 6:00 at night because I wanted to keep track on what was happening.”

Schofield’s parents were evacuated from their home on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 8. As of Saturday, Nov. 10, Schofield realized her home was gone.

“My house was lost,” Schofield said. “We saw a video on Saturday [Nov. 10] — not by anyone that we knew — that showed a shot of my street and my house was gone. But later we did get confirmation that the house was gone from the official Cal Fire website.”

Schofield’s experience with the Camp Fire in Northern California was not the only fire taking place this month. Beginning just hours after the Camp Fire on Thursday, Nov. 8, the Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles County and Ventura County wiped out almost 100,000 acres. In addition to the acreage burned, 1500 structures were destroyed and another 341 were damaged, according to Cal Fire. Three civilians died and three firefighters were injured while trying to stop the blazes.

As thousands of structures and residences went up in flames, the air quality across the state depleted. By Friday, Nov. 16, California air quality was rated worst in the world, according to air quality monitoring network Purple Air. Chico, Oroville and Sacramento were among the worst cities in the state, with ratings in Chico reaching a 365 in the hazardous range by the morning of Thursday, Nov. 15.

As this is the second major fire outbreak in California in the last 4 months, many people are asking why this keeps happening.

Dubbed the “new normal” by California State Senate Pro Tempore in an email, the massive fires Californians have come to see on a yearly basis has people wondering why this keeps happening year after year.

The Los Angeles Times conducted a study to understand why these fires seem to be getting worse. Their findings found that fires in the fall are the most fatal, historically. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 15 of the 20 deadliest wildfires happened between October and December.

Aside from the time of year these fires occur, a wet winter coming after a dry summer may be to blame for the blazes that don’t seem to stop. Before the 2018 fire season, the 2017 fire season was the most destructive of the time. The winter of 2016-17 set records for high amounts of precipitation, and the following summer of 2017 was the hottest summer on record. The precipitation aided more vegetation to grow and the hot summer allowed blazes to keep burning vegetation without much give.

In addition to the large amount of vegetation acting as tinder, the winds played a major role in the spreading of the fires, according to the Los Angeles Times. As cool wind picks up in the Nevada deserts, they become hot and dry and can fan flames quickly from one area to another, causing more acreage to be burned in its path.

In response to the increasingly worse fire seasons from year to year, California governor Jerry Brown has tried to take preventative measures. The outgoing governor has allotted up to $1 billion to work to prevent and to prepare for wildfires.

If university students have been impacted by the wildfires, they are advised to utilize campus resources if necessary. These include the Office of the Dean of Students for help with referrals to other resources, the Student Health Center, Admissions and Records to discuss enrollment and Counseling Services for emotional support.

“The University of Nevada, Reno community stands with students being impacted by the California wildfires,” the university wrote on Facebook. “If you or someone you know is affected, there is help available. University students are encouraged to reach out to campus resources.”

Olivia Ali can be reached at oali@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @OliviaNAli.

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