Batman and the Joker, Superman and Lex Luthor, California and wildfires… For every hero, there’s a sinister, undying enemy, and with drought conditions spiking since 2011, California is a “hot spot” for wildfires like never before.
Kern County in Central California is the state’s latest victim. Approximately 100 structures have been destroyed by fires as of Friday, and two fatalities have also been confirmed. Governor Jerry Brown is declaring a state of emergency.
“We join all Californians in expressing our gratitude to the courageous firefighters, emergency personnel and volunteers working tirelessly… to help residents and extinguish the fire,” he said.
Of course, nothing lasts forever, and this goes double for the fire. At some point, the flames will finally be contained. Residents will no longer be at risk of losing their homes, and lives will no longer be taken, but how long will it be before the next “hot thread” comes dancing along?
Within the last six years, 66 million trees have died across California due to rising temperatures, lagging water supplies and a bark beetle epidemic. The state’s record-breaking drought is now in its fifth year, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warns that such a wide array of dry lumber can undoubtedly “add fuel to the fire.” He is urging Congress to fund programs that could potentially aid California’s forests.
“Tree die-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at risk,” he explained in a statement. “We must fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters in the country.”
According to California fire data, nearly 1,800 fires have occurred in just the last six months, burning over 8,000 acres in the process. In 2015, approximately 6,000 fires occurred, while over 300,000 acres met a red-hot end. That’s a hefty increase over 2014, which saw 4,300 fires and nearly 200,000 acres destroyed.
“The wind, the heat and the low humidity – all that does is just drive a fire,” says Sequoia National Forest spokeswoman Geri Jackson. She believes fire conditions in California are at an all-time high, and all those trees will make this a particularly difficult year for everyone.
The Forest Service has announced that it will put $32 million towards containing the ongoing beetle epidemic, while an additional $11 million will be reserved for local communities to purchase tree removal equipment. Thus far, about 77,000 trees have been cut down, several of which have posed severe risks to residents and motorists alike. Cal Fire and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. are also working towards further tree removal.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are sounding the call for increased efforts to reduce the impacts of global warming and its resultant climate change. Weather models created by Stanford scientists show that carbon emissions may prolong California’s drought by diverting much-needed precipitation.
“This is a warning to all of us,” says Sierra Club director Kathryn Phillips. “We need to cut our air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions more. We’re on the right path, but we need to accelerate our effort.”