Written by Caitlyn Buckley
Over the past week, Southern California experienced more than 23 wildfires that went uncontained for days. Over a five day period, over 500,000 acres burned, damaging forests as well as commercial and personal property.
By Saturday, firefighters were able to contain and extinguish the majority of the fires due to slowed wind speed and cooler temperatures. Still, incredible amounts of damage have been done, with eight people presumed dead, 1,800 homes destroyed and 640,000 people displaced. There are still more than 20,000 properties that are still threatened, while the firefighters remain optimistic that the worst is over. It is being reported that has been one of the worst fire disasters in California’s history. Conservative damage estimates are being placed at 1.6 billion dollars.
California often experiences wildfires during this time of year due to the Santa Anas winds developing a small fire into one that is out of control. The majority of this week’s fires were caused by the high wind speeds snapping power lines.
However, two of the worst fires, located in Orange and Riverside Counties, were suspected to be the result of arson. A $50,000 reward has been announced to capture those responsible for the arsons. California experienced an incredibly dry summer, which contributed to the severity of the fires, making them spread more rapidly and much more difficult to control.
While the immediate threat is mostly over, concern still remains about the dangers posed by the smoke. California’s coast already experiences a high level of pollution, but after the fires, the amount of air pollution is three times greater than normal. People in the more highly affected areas are being encouraged to stay indoors and avoid prolonged exercise—particularly the elderly, children and those with respiratory problems.
Volunteers are aiding Californians in various ways. More than 1,000 volunteers from other states headed to Southern California to assist in wide-ranging fields from medicine to yoga instruction. Volunteer fire crews have come to the area from Mexico, Northern California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington to give a rest to those who had spent several days trying to control the fires. 950 more volunteer firefighters are reported to be on their way to assist in extinguishing the few remaining trouble spots. 3,000 volunteers are currently being trained by the Red Cross to help the evacuees in the upcoming weeks. So much food and water has been donated that officials have asked for monetary donations instead as there is no longer room to accommodate more physical donations.
Even 1,300 miles away from California, the fires have made a significant impact on the SU campus.
“It makes you a lot more grateful for what you have,” Sophomore Linda Peña said. “When you think of the people that lost everything, it really puts things in perspective.”
Several classes on campus have discussed the fires in the context of what is being learned.
“We talked about it in my Earth Science class as well as in International Studies. We learned that people are insisting on building in danger zones that historically have had fires every year, yet they continue to build homes there. We talked about how this happens every year, but this one stood out more than most. It just reminds you to be grateful for what you have and that we aren’t having those same problems here in Texas right now,” Peña said.
In response to the possibility of some of the fires being set by arsonists, Peña said, “If people really did that, I hope they get caught. It is crazy to think that you can get away with destroying so many peoples’ homes and whole lives. I hope that all the people who were somehow impacted by the fires will be okay. It’s so sad and scary to think that something so dangerous and so damaging can happen anywhere.”