The series of ongoing wildfires burning across the state of California in the United States of America (USA) are alarming, creating major news headlines since the beginning of 2020. Out of the six massive Californian wildfires since 1932, five of them took place this year.
Termed as ‘2020 California wildfire season’, the response and evacuations were further complicated by a heatwave and the current COVID-19 pandemic. As per CAL FIR latest report, nearly 10, 500 structure were damaged and destroyed, around 31 lives lost, almost 4,149,345 acres of vegetation burned, and 8,834 wildlife incidents were reported. This leads to 2020 being the largest wildfire season recorded in the history of California, as per the opinion of CAL FIRE.
Based on the report by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) as on October 28, over 5,000 firefighters are fighting 22 wildfires in the state. Some firefighters also suffered degree level burns in the course of the fight.
Initially, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) mentioned that it had cut off the power supply to more than 350,000 homes and businesses located in central and northern California. This step was taken as a precaution by other electricity suppliers too, to reduce the risk posed by dangerously high winds passing through at least 34 countries. By October 26, PG&E said that it was beginning to restore the power supply to individual customers “where it is safe to do so”.
- On October 26, these firefighters battled 42 new wildfires and was successful in containing 39 of them;
- Teams have been specifically assigned to each area for evacuation and minimizing the impact of the fires;
- CAL FIRE has increased its staff members and works in coordination with the local fire agencies;
Instructions are being given to the public to be aware and alert;
- On October 27, firefighters responded to 23 new wildfires, and despite Red Flag Warning conditions, all were contained.
- On October 28, Red Flag Warnings across the state was lifted temporarily, providing some relief in weather conditions.
What ignites wildfires?
According to reliable news statements, the majority of this year’s fires were set ablaze by thousands of dry lightning strikes.
Other common factors are as follows:-
- Seasonal changes and proportional changes in nature;
- Natural ignitions from natural sources (like lightning);
- Artificial ignitions, either purposefully or accidentally (life cigarette stubs);
- Undeterminable human intentions. As per the New York Times, most wildfires in California, are caused by people;
- The presence of power transmission lines or other utility equipment capable of igniting fires in distant areas.
- Fire suppression;
- Strong gusts of wind, called the Santa Ana.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had released the Fifth Assessment Report in 2013, which identified the following factors being detrimental to forests:-
- Global increase in average temperatures;
- Global increase in the frequency, intensity and extent of heatwaves;
- Regional increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of droughts.
Notable Statistics from past wildfires
The following observations can be noted from a paper published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ in 2017.
- Eighty-four per cent – human beings are responsible for the frequent wildfires;
- Twenty-five per cent of the 1.5 million wildfires recorded in the USA in the same year – initiated due to the burning of trash and debris;
- Twenty-two per cent of the 1.5 million wildfires on record in the USA in the same year – initiated due to human causes, followed by arson, heavy equipment, campfires, careless children and smokers.
As on October 29, deadly and rapidly growing fires in the US west coast states is spreading at a speed of about 24 kilometres per day.
Fire crews are having much trouble in controlling the fire as a storm blowing at a speed of 80 kilometres per hour is making the situation worse.
According to CAL FIRE, from January 1 to October 25, a deadly combination of high temperatures, strong winds and lightning storms could contribute to the intensity of the melting in the state.
The American state of California has witnessed devastating happenings in 2020, which can be minimized, though not eradicated, through careful intervention of humans and taking steps to improve our living conditions for a better tomorrow.