I’m only 19 years old and have lived through 16 of California’s 20 most devastating wildfires. I’ve seen ash-covered streets, breathed toxic air, and spent days worrying for loved ones. During the Paradise Fire, my fears came true; my aunt’s entire house was lost.
The Netflix documentary “Fire in Paradise” chronicles the brutal fire that claimed my aunt’s home. In one memorable scene, flames roar towards a school bus full of children. Stories of the brave firefighters combatting the inferno feature prominently in the documentary. However, it isn’t until you personally see the sky lit up a bright yellow that you understand why it’s imperative to drastically change California’s environmental policies.
For over 100 years, the Californian government has been managing the forest with devastating results. The Mendicino Complex Fire (2018) burned 459,123 acres. To put that in perspective, Central Park in New York is only 843 acres. The Camp Fire (2018) claimed 85 lives in its blaze.
Certain natural factors have played into recent catastrophes. In 2015, 29 million trees died due to bark beetles, which are able to attack the trees only after they are weakened due to drought. Together, the bark beetle epidemic and a statewide drought have left California in prime wildfire conditions.
However, certain policies that could help are ignored while mismanagement worsens the situation. Instead of using prescribed burns to cut-back the built-up forest waste that fuels these infernos, the state instead uses the wildfire suppression method. The Forest Service has performed prescribed burns on an average of 2,187,642 acres per year for the past ten years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. That is just a fraction of the progress needed to be made.
The Department of Agriculture needs to step up their care of the forest. The Mendicino Complex fire cost the state $56 million in damages. That was just one fire; in 2018 alone, California had 7,500 fires burning over 1.5 million acres—an area greater than Delaware.
Continuing such a policy will leave this state reduced to ashes and bankruptcy. At the peak of the 2018 fire season, California used over half of its fire budget in 40 days. The state is now experiencing fire seasons that last 90 days or more. The longer the fire seasons last the thinner state resources become which in turn increases the danger of insufficient staffing and preparation.
Many, such as California’s previous governor Jerry Brown, blame climate change for these fires, but Dr. Jon Keeley, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist, says that’s far from the truth: “some will argue that it’s climate change but there is no evidence that it is,” said Keeley. “It’s the fact that somebody ignites a fire during an extreme [wind] event…we don’t see any relationship between past climates and the amount of area burned in any given year.”
Until the Department of Agriculture changes their fire management plans, millions of dollars in damages will accrue, people will continue to die, our state’s forests will fall to ash, and, most egregiously, families will lose their homes and loved ones.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.