If people think of the UK in the winter, Dickensian images come to mind of rolling hills covered in snow and maybe even images of days when the river Thames would freeze over and fairs would be held on the ice. In reality, this was only the case until the 19th Century but today snow in the UK rarely lasts more than a couple of days and the worst we have to deal with is rain. Moving to California, palm trees and beautifully sunny landscapes came to mind. Again, those picturesque images aren’t the whole story. I was reminded that America often experiences hurricanes, tornados and California specifically suffers from earthquakes and wildfires.
Although I had heard of wildfires in California, nothing prepared me for the impact on the state. Recent fires in California have resulted in an entire town, Paradise, burning to the ground and more fires across the county have been disastrous. Sadly, at the time of writing, the fires have claimed the lives of 79 individuals and 700 people are still not accounted for. Paradise was home to 64 of the victims, with 9 located in Concow, 5 in Magalia and one was found in Butte Creek Canyon area. Devastatingly 10,000 homes have been destroyed and 150,000 acres across Butte County affected.
*update: the final death count reached 87. RIP*
This time of year in California humidity is very low because the rain has yet to arrive, but as winter approaches, winds are high. Dry but windy weather conditions are what make wildfires incredibly lethal, as fires can quickly spread. The exact cause of the fire in Paradise is unknown but a whole week after the first fire, there are still evacuation orders for many areas in North California. The cause of fires in California are often undetermined; sadly some are arson or human related fires that got out of hand but often they are accidental causes such as electrical fires. The fires in Butte County this month have been the most destructive in Californian history.
Davis is a 2 hour drive from Paradise and much of the area surrounding Davis is agricultural meaning it is very unlikely fires would spread to the town. This however does not mean that Davis was unaffected. The extent of the fires created vast amounts of smoke which affected the air quality for miles around. Particulates in the air peaked in Davis on Thursday November 15th with PM2.5 (smoke particulate matter) concentrations reported as high as 235ppm which is classified as “very unhealthy”. Because of the drastic reduction in air quality, UC Davis issued a campus wide closure on November 14th and will remain closed until after Thanksgiving. The university, police and fire departments were quick to issue masks for individuals who had to venture outside and recommended everyone stay inside where possible.
To alleviate the fires and draw the smoke out of the air, the local communities are yearning for the rain to arrive. While this will help with the fire and smoke, it seems in some parts of North California, the rains may create a new issue. Downpours of up to half an inch of rain in an hour are expected and with much of the landscape destroyed by fires, this rain may cause mudslides. With climate change causing longer drier summers and more intense rains when they do arrive, how can we learn from this month’s inferno?
Up to date information on the Californian Fires can be found here. The Cal Fire website has information on the areas that are still evacuated and any road closures. In the first few days of the fires, more than 4,700 fire personnel were assigned to the Camp Fire (the Butte County fire). Thanks to the efforts of the firefighters, an estimated 70% containment has been achieved and the air quality is vastly improved.
Stay safe and a happy thanksgiving to y’all!