California Fires Cause Unprecedented Destruction and Loss of Life

Wildfires have been active in California since mid-July and have been responsible for the destruction of thousands of acres of land, including property and homes. The death toll from the recently contained Camp Fire has been reported at 85 people, according to a news release by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 24, 2018. However, other fires have contributed to a total number of 97 civilians and 6 firefighters who have lost their lives. The 2018 wildfire season is reported to have had 7,579 fires burning over 1,667,855 acres of land, a record-breaking season for California.

The new batch of wildfires began spreading in November after winds picked up the previously remaining fires, which have now threatened thousands of homes, hospitals and shelters holding displaced residents. Many Californians have been urged to stay indoors whenever possible and to wear air masks in areas where the oxygen quality has been compromised due to the pollutant chemicals given off by the wildfires. California residents have been posting selfies on social media with their air masks to show off the tragedies that continue to take place.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Barry Muchnick provided comments in response to any possible environmental factors that could be causing the fires to spread more rapidly by noting that human activity could contribute towards the “intensity and destructive potential of fire across the landscape.” He added that “commercial and residential development in high-risk fire zones also changes fire management strategies, reducing practices like controlled burns that could mitigate fire intensity or spread.”

Organizations such as the EPA have rushed forward to aid those combating the wildfires and provide support to those affected. Muchnick mentioned the likelihood that legislative changes made by the current administration could influence the quality or quantity of aid provided by environmental agencies during the wildfires after citing a recent report released by the Fourth National Climate Assessment.


He noted that “climate change is already affecting every sector and region of the United States,” and that the wildfires “are a case study in the impacts of a changing climate. Without an appropriate response from the administration, climate change will disrupt our infrastructure, jeopardize lives (especially for already marginalized communities), and cripple the economy.” However, Muchnick is grateful that “leaders at the state and local levels are taking climate seriously despite setbacks at the federal level,” which is a hopeful step for agencies who continue to provide aid to residents that have been affected by the wildfires.


Beautiful sunsets are a common indulgence at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM), although the smoke of wildfires raging in California has polluted the sunsets in areas as far as New York City according to reports by CNN and the New York Post. When asked about the possibility of SMCM being contaminated by pollutants or air quality changes caused by the smoke, Muchnick replied by saying the most likely consequence from the smoke could enhance sunsets, adding that there “might be more spectacular sunsets as light refracts off of smoke particles in the upper atmosphere.” Muchnick also noted the “possible air quality dangers” that are attributed to “particulates from the California fires to the east coast.”

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