On the Oct. 8, 15 wildfires ignited across the state of California and remained uncontained for days. Of those 15 fires, only three have been labeled as being 100 percent contained by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Despite firefighters’ best efforts, the wildfires have still managed to cause dozens of deaths and millions of dollars in property damage. Public safety is of utmost concern, and the immense resources needed to fight multiple wildfires at once are simply not available.
The fires that remain uncontained are strategically being steered away from cities and other higher-population areas, leaving the saving of establishments and of empty homes a lower priority. According to The New York Times, the Tubbs fire, a fire located near the Santa Rosa area, destroyed or seriously damaged almost 6,000 homes.
According to statistics provided by CAL FIRE, the number of fires Californians are experiencing this season has jumped dramatically. In the timespan of January 2016 to mid-October 2016, wildfires had burned across a little over 244,000 acres, but the same timeframe this year found that statistic has doubled to cover almost half a million acres of land total. This has been attributed in part to climate change, causing California to slowly but surely become drier and more susceptible to drought.
CAL FIRE currently employs almost 11,000 full-time and seasonal firefighters as well as 3,800 inmates who are trained in fire suppression and who work on the front lines of the fires. CAL FIRE operates 39 Conservation Camps, where inmates with minimum-custody status live and respond to fires and other emergencies. These inmates earn $2 a day and $1 an hour while fighting fires. They also receive a two day sentence reduction for each day at a Conservation Camp.
California’s housing sprawl is also pushing population growth into areas which were previously undeveloped, adding to the list of areas that need critical protection. The Los Angeles Times reports that, going forward, counties will be required to discern whether housing can be safely zoned in particularly wildfire-prone areas, and mandates what building materials can be used based upon area risk. As longer droughts and higher temperatures continue to become more common in California, CAL FIRE and local residents will have to stretch their resources even further to stay safe. For now, California must turn its efforts to clearing the waste of affected areas and the roadblocks that will likely appear during rebuilding such large areas.