Devastating Fires in California

Wildfires have been destroying Northern California this year.

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John Anderson

John Anderson, resident of California, snapped a picture of his house during the wildfires.

This has been the worst year of all time for wildfires in California. There have been over 8,000 wildfires this season and over three million acres burned  — the most in recent history.

The majority of wildfires this year have been located in Northern California and its neighboring states. 

“The reason why there are so many fires out west is the weather. The biggest one being humidity…  In Iowa, we have really high humidity, which is why we don’t see a whole lot of wildfires,” said Fox Knepp, Coralville Firefighter, and former Forest Service Firefighter. “When you get out west, the humidity drops really really low and it gets dry and hot. That contributes to those fires.” 

Aside from the humidity, dead trees and dry grass also contribute significantly to the fires, this is often called forest management. This is when Forrest service members clear out the dead plants so that highly flammable materials don’t build up and increase the risk of a wildfire. Often instead of removing the dead brush, the Forest Service would burn it in a controlled burn. It is completely controlled and one of the best options to keep the forests healthy and safe.

“When I was in the Forest Service last year we didn’t just stop fires… We actually started fires too. We basically set out a plan. We planned this out months ahead of time. There is so much planning that goes into these prescribed fires. We find the perfect day so the conditions are perfect. There are no insane winds that are gonna come out of nowhere and take it out of control. On the day of the burn, we start the fire. We have firefighters everywhere just to control it. And we go through and burn,” Knepp said. “It is healthy for the forest and it’s a controlled burn… [Waiting] leads to all of the stuff building up, all of the dead trees and leaves that could lead to accidental ignition.”

Thick smoke coats the sky during a fire close to Anderson’s house. (John Anderson)

 John Anderson, a California Resident and a family friend of Quincy Lohman, senior, and Lucy Lohman, freshman said, “The last few years, it [has] been the power company that has started [the fires]… But now, we get these lightning storms when it’s hot and dry that can start them as well.” 

Another key feature that contributes to the fires is climate change. According to E&E News, “Temperatures in California rose 1.8 degrees since 1989, while precipitation dropped 30%.”

That can cause the grass to dry out faster and fire season to start earlier and earlier each year.

Aside from the actual fire, the results of them can be equally bad. The fires have turned the sky from blue to a reddish-orange color and have brought the air quality to an unhealthy level. 

“We are about 10 miles away from the nearest fire… Instead of getting up to check the weather, you check purple air to see if you can open the windows or not. Purple air gives an air quality rating and anything over 100 is unhealthy. Right next to the fires, it’s about 500, and over here, it’s been 160’s today. We have to keep our windows shut and we have five air purifiers going,” Anderson said.

It’s like when you are at a campfire, and the smoke is blowing right in your face.”

— Conner Doerschug

Conner Doerschug, senior, who has family in California, said, “The air is smoke. You feel it in your stomach and lungs… It’s like when you are at a campfire, and the smoke is blowing right in your face.”

Instead of getting ready to evacuate the fires, the Forest Service wants to prevent them by doing controlled prescribed burns to dead tree brush, so it doesn’t build up and become a risk for a wildfire.

In Iowa, there’s not much to do for the people in California and surrounding states, but people can educate themselves.

“I think the best thing that you can do is educate yourselves. [Learn] about wildfires, and know-how they start. When people go to California or go camping out West, they should be aware of the dangers of wildfires and can be careful,” Knepp said.