Millions without power. A hundred thousand ordered to evacuate. A major highway through Los Angeles closed for most of the day, as hills above burned.
Wildfire season in California is disrupting daily life and highlighting the weaknesses of official responses to climate disasters even in a wealthy and technologically advanced state.
California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents across a total area of about 163,696 square miles (423,970 km2), California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation’s second- and fifth-most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California’s most populous city, and the country’s second-most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation’s most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country’s second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.
California’s economy, with a gross state product of $3.0 trillion, is larger than that of any other U.S. state and is the largest sub-national economy in the world. If it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world (larger than the United Kingdom, France, or India), and the 36th-most populous as of 2017. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation’s second- and third-largest urban economies ($1.253 trillion and $907 billion respectively as of 2017), after the New York metropolitan area. The San Francisco Bay Area PSA had the nation’s highest gross domestic product per capita in 2017 (~$94,000) among large primary statistical areas, and is home to three of the world’s ten largest companies by market capitalization and four of the world’s ten richest people.California culture is considered a global trendsetter in popular culture, communication, information, innovation, environmentalism, economics, politics, and entertainment. As a result of the state’s diversity and migration, California integrates foods, languages, and traditions from other areas across the country and around the globe. It is considered the origin of the American film industry, the hippie counterculture, fast food, beach and car culture, the Internet, and the personal computer, among others. The San Francisco Bay Area and the Greater Los Angeles Area are widely seen as centers of the global technology and entertainment industries, respectively. California’s economy is very diverse: 58% of it is based on finance, government, real estate services, technology, and professional, scientific, and technical business services. Although it accounts for only 1.5% of the state’s economy, California’s agriculture industry has the highest output of any U.S. state.California shares a border with Oregon to the north, Nevada and Arizona to the east, and the Mexican state of Baja California to the south. The state’s diverse geography ranges from the Pacific Coast in the west to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the east, and from the redwood and Douglas fir forests in the northwest to the Mojave Desert in the southeast. The Central Valley, a major agricultural area, dominates the state’s center. Although California is well-known for its warm Mediterranean climate, the large size of the state results in climates that vary from moist temperate rainforest in the north to arid desert in the interior, as well as snowy alpine in the mountains. Over time, drought and wildfires have become more frequent challenges.What is now California was first settled by various Native Californian tribes before being explored by a number of European expeditions during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish Empire then claimed and conquered it. In 1804 it was included in Alta California province, within Spanish New Spain Viceroyalty. The area became a part of Mexico in 1821 following its successful war for independence but was ceded to the United States in 1848 after the Mexican–American War. The western portion of Alta California was then organized and admitted as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. The California Gold Rush starting in 1848 led to dramatic social and demographic changes, with large-scale emigration from the east and abroad with an accompanying economic boom.
California wildfires bring destruction to Los Angeles suburbs
A wildfire, wildland fire or rural fire is an uncontrolled fire in an area of combustible vegetation occurring in rural areas. Depending on the type of vegetation present, a wildfire can also be classified more specifically as a brush fire, bushfire, desert fire, forest fire, grass fire, hill fire, peat fire, vegetation fire, or veld fire. Many organizations consider wildfire to mean an unplanned and unwanted fire, while wildland fire is a broader term that includes prescribed fire as well as wildland fire use (WFU; these are also called monitored response fires).Fossil charcoal indicates that wildfires began soon after the appearance of terrestrial plants 420 million years ago. Wildfire’s occurrence throughout the history of terrestrial life invites conjecture that fire must have had pronounced evolutionary effects on most ecosystems’ flora and fauna. Earth is an intrinsically flammable planet owing to its cover of carbon-rich vegetation, seasonally dry climates, atmospheric oxygen, and widespread lightning and volcanic ignitions.Wildfires can be characterized in terms of the cause of ignition, their physical properties, the combustible material present, and the effect of weather on the fire. Wildfires can cause damage to property and human life, although naturally occurring wildfires may have beneficial effects on native vegetation, animals, and ecosystems that have evolved with fire.High-severity wildfire creates complex early seral forest habitat (also called “snag forest habitat”), which often has higher species richness and diversity than unburned old forest. Many plant species depend on the effects of fire for growth and reproduction. Wildfires in ecosystems where wildfire is uncommon or where non-native vegetation has encroached may have strongly negative ecological effects.Wildfire behavior and severity result from a combination of factors such as available fuels, physical setting, and weather. Analyses of historical meteorological data and national fire records in western North America show the primacy of climate in driving large regional fires via wet periods that create substantial fuels, or drought and warming that extend conducive fire weather.Strategies for wildfire prevention, detection, control and suppression have varied over the years. One common and inexpensive technique is controlled burning: intentionally igniting smaller fires to minimize the amount of flammable material available for a potential wildfire. Vegetation may be burned periodically to maintain high species diversity and limit the accumulation of plants and other debris that may serve as fuel. Wildland fire use is the cheapest and most ecologically appropriate policy for many forests. Fuels may also be removed by logging, but such thinning treatments may not be effective at reducing fire severity under extreme weather conditions. Wildfire itself is reportedly “the most effective treatment for reducing a fire’s rate of spread, fireline intensity, flame length, and heat per unit of area”, according to Jan Van Wagtendonk, a biologist at the Yellowstone Field Station. Building codes in fire-prone areas typically require that structures be built of flame-resistant materials and a defensible space be maintained by clearing flammable materials within a prescribed distance from the structure.
At least two people are feared to have died in fires on the outskirts of Los Angeles on Friday. In the Saddleridge fire, to the north of the city, fire officials said 13 buildings were destroyed, many probably homes. Another 18 were damaged. To the east of the city, a fire that swept through a mobile home park in Calimesa left 74 buildings destroyed and 16 damaged.
The fires in Los Angeles burned as power was restored to most of the nearly 2 million residents in the northern part of the state disconnected by Pacific Gas Electric on Wednesday, seeking to prevent a repeat of the past two years, when its equipment sparked deadly, destructive fires during windy weather.
California wildfires bring destruction to Los Angeles suburbs
The power blackouts, which hit parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, put medically vulnerable people at risk, highlighted the lack of preparation by city governments for helping at-risk residents, and prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to criticize PGE for “greed” and “mismanagement”.
The region has been on high alert as powerful Santa Ana winds bring dry desert air to a desiccated landscape that only needs a spark to erupt. Fire officials have warned that they expect more intense and devastating wildfires due, in part, to climate change.
Edwin Bernard, 73, is no stranger to flames that have menaced his corner of Los Angeles, but they never arrived as quickly or came as close to his home before.
He and his wife were among some 100,000 residents ordered out of their homes because of a wind-driven wildfire that broke out on Thursday evening in the San Fernando Valley. It spread west through tinder-dry brush in hilly subdivisions on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, and was only 13% contained on Friday night.
A middle-aged man who was near the fire went into cardiac arrest and died after apparently trying to fight the fire himself, authorities said.
The Los Angeles fire chief, Ralph M Terrazas, said he flew over the fire and saw “hundreds, if not thousands of homes” with charred backyards where firefighters had just managed to halt the flames.
Fire swept down the hill across the street, Bernard said, and spat embers over his home of 30 years, sizzling dry grass and igniting trees and bushes. He and his wife scrambled to go, leaving behind medication, photo albums and their four cats.
“It was a whole curtain of fire,” Bernard said. “There was fire on all sides. We had to leave.”
Bernard’s home and the cats survived. His backyard was charred.
By late Friday, the winds had subsided but the National Weather Service still warned of extreme fire danger in some southern areas because of very low humidity.
Interstate 5, the main north-south corridor, was shut down for much of Friday. Even after motorists returned in the evening, patches of the hills remained on fire.
Jonathan Stahl was driving home to Valencia when he saw the smoke. He immediately diverted to a mobile home park in Sylmar, east of Los Angeles, where his grandmother and aunt live together. The park was nearly wiped out in 2008 when one of the city’s most destructive fires leveled 500 homes.
Stahl helped his grandmother, Beverly Stahl, 91, and his aunt pack clothing, medication and their two dogs. They saw flames in the distance as they drove away.
“We just packed up what we could as fast as we could,” Stahl said at an evacuation point at the Sylmar Recreation Center, massaging his grandmother’s shoulders as she sat in a wheelchair with a Red Cross blanket on her lap. “If we’d stuck around, we would have been in trouble. Real big trouble.”
Several residents of the park were unaccounted for. The family of 89-year-old Lois Arvickson feared she died in the blaze that destroyed her home. Arvickson had called her son to say she was evacuating.
“She said she’s getting her purse and she’s getting out, and the line went dead,” Don Turner said.
He said neighbors saw his mother in her garage as flames approached. They later saw the garage on fire. Her car was still parked in the driveway.