California Wildfires

4 mins read
Fire Truck at Healdsburg Plaza Party. Photo provided by the author.

Last Friday the residents of Healdsburg, CA, held a huge party in the Plaza.  They were celebrating being able to return to their undamaged homes and showing their gratitude to Cal Fire and the first responders. Because the local children were evacuated over Halloween, there were lots of people in costume, and most of the businesses were ready with candy for the many trick or treaters. 

Party in Healdsburg Plaza. Photo provided by the author.

It could have been a very different night.  According to Cal Fire, The Kincade Fire burned over 77,000 acres.  More than 370 buildings were destroyed, and at least 60 more were damaged. By comparison, 2017’s Tubbs Fire, which also affected Sonoma County, burned an estimated 36,810 acres.  The Tubbs fire killed 22 people, and over 2,800 homes were destroyed.  

Many Sonoma County residents were affected by both the 2017 Tubbs fire, and this year’s Kincade fire.  David Cully, the owner of K C American Grill in Windsor lost his home in 2017. When the entire town of Windsor was evacuated, he said that he was concerned about the home he was currently renting, his business, and his almost completed rebuilt home.  Mr. Cully praised the local police and fire departments for an orderly and safe evacuation. He also praised the local government for their planning. Lorene Romero, President & CEO of the Windsor Chamber of Commerce also had complimentary words for the Town of Windsor.  The town had a workshop for business owners on how to be prepared. This got them thinking about priorities like paying employees early, since banks and ATMs might not be accessible during an evacuation or power outage.

David Cully’s restaurant with the canopy blown on the roof. Photo provided by the author.

Destructive wildfires are not new in California.  The fall months used to be known as “fire season” because of the hot dry weather that accompanied the Santa Ana winds.  These winds blow from east to west, and dry out vegetation, making it extremely flammable. Once a fire starts, the winds fan and spread the flames.  What is different now is that California has suffered several years of drought, which makes the vegetation highly flammable during the entire year.   

Not surprisingly, the discussion of California’s increasingly catastrophic wildfires has become political.  Some Republicans have suggested reversing the state’s plan to get to 100% clean energy and invest state funds in modernizing and updating the current fossil fuels based infrastructure, instead. In a statement, California Senate President Pro Tempore, Toni Atkins said:

By denying the reality that fossil fuel generated climate change is contributing to these devastating wildfires, by opening consumers to bigger bills, and by ignoring the need to reduce the potential spread of wildfires caused by non-utility sources such as lightning, car engines, or dragging chains, the Republican proposal would make a difference, but not in the direction we need.

President Trump has blamed the state for improper maintenance of the forests, but the reality is that 57% of California’s forests are owned and managed by the federal government.  Forty percent of the forests are owned by families, Native American tribes or businesses, leaving only 3% owned and managed by state and local governments. In addition, most modern wildfires take place in “wildland-urban” areas, not forests.  

What seems clear is that the number of lives, homes and businesses lost to wildfires increases every year in California and other western states. Continuing to deny the reality of climate change, and the costly impact of these fires, will only continue this trend.

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