Fires scar state’s landscape

Wildfires have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres across California over the past several years. Experts say that although Southern California has seen a lot of fires this year, the two last years have been much more destructive and deadly. 

The statistics don’t lie. California is on fire.

In just the last two years, more acreage and property in the Golden State has been destroyed than in the state’s history.

The Mendocino Complex Fire in July 2018 destroyed 459,123 acres, far surpassing the second largest fire in the state just a year earlier when the Thomas Fire consumed 281,893 acres in December 2017.

And it isn’t only land that has been affected by the fires. Last year the Camp Fire resulted in 86 deaths — by far the most deaths caused by a fire in the state’s history. That fire, which flared up in November 2018, also consumed more structures than any fire in the state’s history when it destroyed 18,804. The next most destructive fire occurred just a year earlier in October 2017 when the Tubbs Fire consumed 5,643 structures.

Over the weekend alarms again went off across Los Angeles when a 34-acre brush fire broke out in the Hollywood Hills on Saturday afternoon.

The blaze, named the Barham Fire, started just before 2 p.m. in the 3600 block of Barham Boulevard, and while the wildfire remained active, firefighters stopped its growth and had it 15 percent contained by 5 p.m.

And just weeks ago the state was again on fire from end to end with thousands of acres of land destroyed and hundreds of thousands of residents forced to evacuate.

“The frequency at which [California has wildfires], the destruction [they] cause, has accelerated way beyond the natural point,” said Austin Isakson, a 24-year-old wildlife major and president of Orange Coast College’s Ecology Club.

Despite the perception that the fires in California are worse this year than ever, in reality less acreage has burned so far. Fire officials say the decrease is only partly due to preparation — luck has played its role too.

More fire crews have been on standby and evacuations have been ordered more quickly than in the past. This year also brought cooler temperatures than the previous two years, officials said.

Despite this year having less overall devastation when compared to the last two years, there are other factors at play too.

This year, in an attempt to reduce the spread of fires, utilities shut off power to thousands and thousands of homes throughout California. Even without the power lines contributing to the fires, the continuous spread of flames suggests that energy companies like PG&E may not be as large a contributor as once thought.

It might be something bigger.

“The main reason we are seeing the effects more is as the population in places like California increases — we are moving into more and more rural areas,” said Erik Bender, geology instructor and chair of the Geology department.

Although it can be easy for residents to feel like they don’t have control over these natural disasters, Isakson said there are things that can be done to make a positive impact.

“The two biggest things are do not keep expanding into these wild areas, and we are terrible to the environment,” Isakson said. “A lot of it is awareness.”

He said California residents can be more mindful of their actions and the contributions they have on the environment.

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